Monthly Archives: April 2013

Packing for Japan

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From the very beginning of this blogging job, I wanted to write a post on how to pack for studying in Japan. I thought that by writing it last I would be able to share some wisdom on what I learned this semester… aka what I didn’t pack and wish I had, or what I packed and really didn’t use. Please take note that this is from my own personal experience, and I am not an expert.

1.) Pack outfits. I didn’t pack outfits when I studied in NYC and all my clothes didn’t match, it was very unfortunate. I had packed all patterned pieces.
2.) Pack your favorites, or what you feel most confident wearing. You will feel like a total alien compared to the small, cute Japanese persons around you, so bring clothes that you feel confident wearing. No need to feel like the duckling, heck we are swans here.
3.) Pack a sweater or sweatshirt. Yes, it is relatively warmer in Tokyo compared to Philadelphia, even more so compared to my university in Holland, Michigan. However, Japanese do not rely on central heating like we do in the states. Especially if you are living with a host family, bring something warm for in the house. This is unless you plan on buying a little night fleece set from uniqlo.
4.) Try to pack only a suitcase, and pack a bag or buy a cheap one for the return. You are able to take 2 pieces of luggage on your flight 50lbs each in addition to a carry on. I packed one very large suitcase exactly 50lbs. and put a overnight bag inside and had my backpack and purse. I am very glad I did this, because I am not worried about bringing gifts back home and the various other things I have acquired. I have a whole new bag to stuff that I didn’t use when I arrived.
5.) Bring shoes that you can easily slip on and off, just in case you are entering into a home or a location that is more traditional. You don’t want to be the one everyone is waiting on for your shoes.
6.) Bring small gifts from home for meeting new people, and for when you leave. Stuff with TEMPLE on it, your home town’s name, USA, American candy, or home made goods are my recommendations. It is really socially correct to give gifts upon entering someone’s house, or just someone who you have worked for during your time in Japan.
7.) Go to hyakuyen shops (100yen) for gifts. Everything is 105 (the 5 is the tax) and there are lots of fun little trinkets you can find for souvenirs for family and friends.
8.) Bring a journal. I am terrible at journaling regularly, but it is really helpful to document your thoughts when abroad. You are learning a lot and experiencing a lot of new things. Don’t let yourself forget the experience, also it is therapeutic.
9.) People in Japan dress nicely. Just be aware of this. You can choose to try to dress Japanese-like, but as a foreigner it is okay to be different. Allow yourself your identity.
10.) Remember chargers and cords, along with a converter for plugs that are 3 pronged to become 2 pronged. Not all Japanese plugs are only 2 pronged, but mostly.
11.) Bring reminders of home for yourself or to show to others, like pictures. People love to see where you are from and who is important.
12.) Bring a favorite little snack from home, sometimes when adjusting those first few days or weeks it is really comforting to have a taste of home.
13.) and don’t forget your toothbrush, they are different here.

I know I am forgetting things, but I am going to leave it at that. I hope that anyone who is thinking about traveling abroad, especially Japan, goes for it! It is a great experience, and you grow a lot during your time abroad.

Some of the various things you can find at a 100 yen shop!

Some of the various things you can find at a 100 yen shop!

I am going to miss these girls <3

I am going to miss these girls ❤

One of the classes that I helped teach English this semester. One of the classes that I helped teach English this semester.

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Shikinejima

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Last week was the last overnight trip planned by the OSS, and it was certainly the most anticipated. The trip was to the Izu Islands, about a seven-hour ferry ride out of Tokyo Bay, and though the weather cut our trip short it was definitely a highlight of my entire semester thus far.

The island that we were able to visit was Shikinejima. The ride was pretty long and tiring, but the weather was perfect for the events that were planned for the day. Upon arriving, we quickly got suited up in wetsuits for a few hours of snorkeling, which was no easy feat as the suits were not only difficult to get on but extremely warm before we entered the water. However, it was worth the struggle. The water was beautiful; there were lots of fish, coral, and nasty sea slugs to look at. I also managed to get sunburn in the shape of my goggles. After snorkeling we ate bento, a type of packed lunch, and were given time to rent bikes and explore the island.

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The area where we went snorkeling.

I was surprised by just how small of a community lived on the island. Everyone seemed to know everyone. At one point when my friends and I got lost and had to ask someone for directions, the man we asked offered to drive to where we wanted to go so that we could follow him. Furthermore, after dinner the town even re-opened the convenience store so that we could all buy some dessert and snacks. The island, like the rest of Japan, was very mountainous and riding the bikes at times proved to be difficult, but every time we reached the top of a hill we were rewarded with an amazing view of the ocean, nearby islands, and the jagged cliffs that lined Shikinejima. The views were breathtaking.

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The next day we were forced to cut our trip short due to storms that were expected to hit the island. Had we stayed, we would have been stranded on the island for a week or two. The family who owned the building we stayed in saw us off the next day by performing some kind of tradition with ribbons that I can’t say I really understood, but it was adorable all the same.

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Though I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to visit any of the other islands, Shikinejima surpassed my expectations and is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had thus far during my study abroad experience.

Sakura Viewing

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The cherry blossom (sakura) festival recently ended, but while the trees were still in bloom I took the time to visit Ueno, one of the most popular sakura viewing parks in Tokyo. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into before I got there; a quick web search told me it was the busiest and loudest place to view sakura, and it was also free to enter the park. Though Ueno is easily over an hour train ride from where I live, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally see what everyone had been so enthusiastically anticipating for the previous few weeks.

As soon as I got off the train at Ueno Station I was given a taste of just how loud and busy Ueno was during this time of year: I could hardly move through the station near the park exit. When I managed to get out of the station, I followed the crowd to the center of the park where I was not only surrounded by hundreds of people, but hundreds of sakura. The street was filled with people enjoying the warm weather and walking underneath the trees. People snapped pictures everywhere at literally every chance they got. It was definitely very loud, and very busy.

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The park exit at Ueno station.

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The amount of people in the park was unexpected and impressive. Not only were the streets crowded, but the ground around the trees was also covered with people sitting on tarps and blankets in groups, eating lunch and drinking alcohol. I ended up happening to run into some friends and we also picnicked under the trees. The park was very prepared for the event and the amount of people who were visiting. Some ground where people sat was marked off from the streets to avoid people sitting in traffic, and every intersection had numerous bins for trash and recycling. There were also a lot of food and drink vendors.

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Before visiting Ueno I understood that the cherry blossom festival was very important in Japan, but I underestimated the extent to which people make an attempt to appreciate the time that the trees are in bloom. A lot of people attempted to take pictures of their children in front of the trees, though it often proved to be difficult. The most interesting attempt at a picture I witnessed was a man holding his dog up in front of the trees to try to capture a picture of her with his cell phone.

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She’s dressed appropriately for the occasion.

For the rest of the time the sakura were in bloom I was lucky enough to see them daily on my walk to the train station. The neighborhood I live in is pretty quiet compared to the denser areas of Tokyo, and my walk to the station is lined with sakura.

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My daily walk to the train station.

Ghibli Musem

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I WENT TO THE GHIBLI MUSEUM!!!!!!!!!!!! It was so amazing! Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures inside but I do have pictures of the exterior. Inside though it was amazing. The first room I walked into was one that showed how film worked. First showing the film just running with a light behind it, then blocked off so only a frame of the film showed, then lastly how it was reflected onto a screen, and viewed how we normally think of it. There was also this Carousel of Totoro figurines that when looked at in normal light were just still figurines at different stages of, for example, jump-roping. A strobe light was added to this and the figurines came to life. It really looked like they were moving, but it was just spinning as a whole, and each figurine itself was not moving.

My favorite room however was a remake of what a work place for Miyazaki would look like. It had junk everywhere. This junk was his inspiration, and you could see how they were referenced in his films. Also their were sketches. I am not sure they were originals, but there were sketches and paintings everywhere. It was so inspiring. I am not much of a drawer myself, but the artists that worked at Ghibli and Miyaki of course were seriously amazing. They were not just talented but worked to extreme degrees to make something move like the real thing. One room showed a desk with a projector next to it replaying around 5 seconds of a horse running over and over. The desk had a light table built inside of it, meaning hours would be spent capturing these 5 seconds onto seamless stills of paper. I think this is mind blowing, trying to capture and think of motion in stills.

The museum in whole was like a playground too. There was a bridge inside on the second floor, and a spiral tower staircase from the first floor to the second. There was of course the plush cat bus where little kids could play. (I was too big) There was a tower one could take outside to a garden area where the robot from Laputa was. I enjoyed myself at 21, I can only imagine how much fun the children around me were having climbing into all the crooks and crannies of the museum.
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At the museum you are also given a ticket where you can see a film that is only shown there. It is a short 20-minute-long film, and although I won’t discuss the story line, it was very Ghibli and very adorable.
After seeing all that could be seen, my friend and I decided we were hungry and ventured out into the surrounding area for food. We found the cutest place! It was a renovated gas station turned cafe. It was tiny and served pizza and coffee, along with maybe a few other things. The people who ran it were so excited to have us, and tried to speak English to us. The cafe also had a real local feel, advertising local music and artists. They also had a local mini farmer’s market outside. It was my favorite kind of place to say the least. And my little personal sized pizza was killer good. It was all together a delightful day and another wonderful adventure in Japan.

House Vision Tokyo 2013 Exhibition

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I recently just discovered the flower artist Makoto Azuma. Upon discovery I also found out he had a current exhibition. Struck by his art, and looking an some art gallery to go to, I immediately made plans to check out his exhibition. However, he was in fact not being shown in a gallery. Instead I found myself in an art, architecture, and technology of the future expo. The set up was seven different ‘houses’ all connected by a boardwalk, exhibiting different artists’ ideas of fusing traditional Japanese architectural design and modern design. The entire expo also pointed to space control, environmental and green living, and personalizing home interior. Exhibiting were established contemporary artists, architects, and Honda. Was this art? Was it housing design? Was this the answer to Japanese limited living spaces?
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The artist I came for Makoto Azuma collaborated on a piece with some architects creating a bathroom space that had walls and ground entirely made of plants. The work’s tagline is “In a country where you leave schoes at the foyer to cut into a totally clean environment, the restroom could be a new locus for lifestyle aesthetics.” I love this reasoning. It seems so ‘Japanese.’ As an outsider I also see how this line would really sell Japanese too. I think they would buy into this advertisement, because of how true it is that the living space is culturally meant to be a clean, safe environment. I am not saying this is bad to be sold to the advertisement. I am instead saying that the audience this expo was geared towards was culturally correct.
One of the ‘houses’ was a great commentary of traditional and modern, was ‘the teahouse’. It was beautiful. One was a thatched roof small tea house and the other was a minimalistic room with tattame mats and sleak tables and chairs. Everything was made out of specified materials. The different kinds of wood used for different objects was very important to the architect. In turn it smelled so good. I love the smell of wood though.
I could talk about all the houses, but it would kinda take thousands of words instead of hundreds, so I will defer you all to the official website for more info on the different houses shown. http://house-vision.jp/en.about.html
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The exhibit also featured Starbucks coffee and a Tsutaya books store. After walking through all seven ‘houses’ I went to the bookstore to look around. While there I was informed that Azuma would be speaking in 15 minutes. I just happened to go to the right day of the exhibit, at the right time…What are the odds?! I did not understand all that was said, but was still very inspired. Makoto Azuma works with flowers and puts a contemporary spin on flower arranging. Some of his pieces are a graphing of plants creating ‘hybrid’ plants. He also is involved with placing nature back into Tokyo through his art installments of plants. Like the bathroom, having plants growing from walls of store fronts are sculptures that he makes for parks or shopping centers. What may seem like small changes, little by little is bringing nature back into the urban setting and helping purify the air.

I am studying Japanese contemporary art history right now at Temple, and I can really see how Azuma is an example of the current trend of contemporary artists. Japan is really into art projects where art is not placed in a gallery but a collaboration between artists of different fields and placed in the community. The thought is that the art is made for the benefit of the community, whether re-purposing an area that has been abused and forgotten since the Industrial growth of the nation, or like Azuma trying to help the enviroment through replanting the city. With Tokyo’s lack of space it makes sense that the walls of buildings are now being made into gardens. I absolutely am in love with this vision. I am so excited that I stumbled upon it all while I am here!
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