Monthly Archives: June 2014

Stormy Days and Sports Night

Standard

DSC_9207 copy

It was another stormy week in Tokyo. This is a view from the balcony of the Kitazono Women’s Dorm

DSC_9259 copy

While the weather may not have been perfect for going outside, it was perfect for a visit to the cat café where we were able to experience this kitten’s first day at the café.

DSC_9300 copy

Sports Night provided by TUJ. Pictured SA students – Mike Allen (Economics, Main Campus), Michael Vy (Main Campus) and Rasmy Nguyen, Communication Studies, Main Campus).

DSC_9296 copy

 

We began the night with some intense basketball

DSC_9275 copy

Full-time TUJ students Tomohito and Shun pose mid-game

DSC_9297 copy

On the other side of the gym, students participated in playing volleyball. Check out that jump on the left!

DSC_9350 copy

The Sports Night crew!

DSC_9341 copy

Even cleaning up afterwards was a friendly competition

DSC_9351 copy

Afterwards, we were able to experience something rare: a full moon on Friday the 13th. The next time we will be able to see this is in 2049.

DSC_9391 copy

Eric Mousin (psychology, University of Vermont) and Sarah Maloney (film studies, Sarah Lawrence) pose in front of Temple after class

 

 

Advertisements

Rain, rain, go away…

Standard

DSC_9107

It’s been raining here nonstop for the entire week. Normally I enjoy the peace  that the rain brings but it’s been constant downpour (and even that might be an understatement).

DSC_9087

People sought cover in all sorts of places

DSC_8926-1

I decided to check out the shops are Harajuku. The colors were exactly what I expected – lots of pinks and pastels.

DSC_8930-1

They had all kinds of accessories that you wouldn’t expect to find (nor would you be surprised to find them). Here is an accessorized Totoro backpack.

DSC_8932-1

I saw a bubble tea shop so, naturally, I had to get some.

 

DSC_8996-2

We took a closer look inside but quickly left as soon as we saw a man practicing kendo

 

DSC_9038

And then I paid a visit to my dear friend, Professor Sycamore at Pokemon Center.

DSC_9181

This has been one of my favorite foods yet in Japan – giant honey toast. My friends and I occasionally visit Akihabara  just to get one of these. Even with four of us, it was difficult to finish.

The street art here features many video game characters, such as this Street Invader in ShibuyaDSC_8960

Eric Mousin (studying psychology at the University of Vermont) taking pictures for his digital photography class

 

 

Nature in Chaos: Finding Space to Relax

Standard

The sprawling, unthinkably vast city of Tokyo is really more akin to a network of smaller, interconnected cities. Shibuya, Shinjuku, Itabashi, Ikebukuro, Azabu, and many more that could all stand as towns in their own right are connected by a gleaming and stunningly efficient network of trains and subways. It is both magnificent and magnificently isolating. It is easy to feel small and alone, a single ant surrounded by a concrete jungle of Amazonian proportions waiting to swallow up lone passersby in endless shouts and careening cars. Beautifully sterile glass and concrete behemoths loom large on every side, dissected by shimmering rivers of asphalt. There are canals and trees, sure, but nature feels far-flung from the glowing billboards, shining like miniature suns, that dot Shinjuku. Shibuya and Harajuku scream consumerism as shop after appealing shop lure in wide-eyed customers. You would never guess that right around the corner lies the enormous Meiji Shrine and the equally sprawling Yoyogi Park, offering a soft patch of grass for the weary traveler to rest upon. Shady trees spread their branches wide, welcoming one and all to relax in their shade. A group of young men shout joyously as they kick a soccer ball in their own version of the World Cup. Enormous ravens, larger than my cat, squawk in the distance but for once their cries are reassuring in a fashion far from their midnight shrieks of “nevermore.” As I take a deep breath, my lungs notice the strange absence of exhaust, fumes from the subway, or even the smell of food that pervades my neighborhood. Nothing but trees and tranquility. Although I think of myself largely as a city girl at heart, sometimes nothing beats the sun on my face and a breeze in my hair. Water trickles somewhere in the distance and a bird whistles its tune overhead, seemingly unaware of the bustling metropolis mere minutes from its tranquil home.

IMG_1268 Picnickers enjoy a beautiful afternoon in Yoyogi Park

Across from Yoyogi Park is the elegant and intricate Meiji Shrine, originally completed in the early 1920s and dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. Tourists snapping photos stand alongside praying Shinto worshippers come to pay their respects. The enormous, elaborately carved temple compound hums with the noise of not only spectators, but the reverberations of a ceremonial drum as a wedding party marches solemnly into the temple for the marriage ceremony, the men in suits and the women in traditional kimonos. Though I am not a particularly religious person, I can’t help but be overcome with a great sense of spiritual peace. Joyous and reverent, the shrine and its beautiful grounds are a reminder that whatever your beliefs, we are put here to live for something larger than ourselves. The sweet air perfumed by incense and the thousands of trees that surround the area bring life. It is the same air that Emperor Meiji breathed and the same air that our great-grandchildren will breathe. The ultimate combination of old and new, Japan serves as a reminder that progress does not have to trump tradition, but rather that the two can thrive side-by-side. From my seat near Meiji Shrine, I can see a skyscraper glinting in the sun. I take another deep breath and remind myself that there is no rush to return to that frantic world. Just sit back and smell the incense.

IMG_0994A peaceful park just minutes from Tokyo Tower

Batten Down the Hatches, it’s Rush Hour

Standard

There must be some sort of medal they give to gaijins who manage to navigate Shibuya train station at rush hour. Especially ones who have only been here for three weeks and have to navigate it twice a week, two times a day to reach their internship. Throngs of people rush every which-way—a roaring current that is liable to sweep away even the most seasoned businessman in rapids that never calm their frothy, frantic journey. Maybe a raft would make this better… I think, before taking a deep breath and plunging into the current. I whirl around corners and down stairwells, trying desperately to reach the opposite shore, where signs pointing me to the “Toyoko” train line beckon like land in a raging storm. “Sumimasen,” the only word I’ve said since I left the dorm at 7:15 in the morning, is my constant refrain as I try my hardest to unobtrusively barrel my way through the crowd.

2020_01 Photo courtesy of http://www.Japan-guide.com, as I am often unfortunately too overwhelmed from squeezing myself into the car to think about snapping photos.

Down a set of stairs, past the women clacking in their heels like it’s illegal to wear anything else, around another corner, outside, back inside (good thing it’s not raining), up an escalator, scan my Pasmo (bye, 200 Yen), through the flood gates, and finally, my head is above water again as I reach the platform. A few moments later, the train glides to an effortless halt and I ready myself. The sea of people has somehow transformed itself from water into sardines, packed tightly inside metal tubes. Elbows out, head down, I step slightly out of the way as the doors open, releasing a wash of sardines in suits onto the shores of the platform. Before the last commuter has pried himself from the car, we throng in, crowding up against one another until everyone fits. I cannot miss this train, I think as I consider elbowing schoolgirls and grannies alike out of the way. The catchy tune chimes, the doors beep and let out a hydraulic “whoosh,” and we lurch forward. There are no handholds to be found, but that’s not a problem—I can barely move to adjust my arm, which hangs dangerously close to areas I have no desire to discover more about. I try to angle myself in order to avoid the gentleman behind me that has no choice but to ride this train in an unintentionally similar fashion to the way clubbers dance on a Friday night. For someone who considers herself a little shy, I’ve gotten to know a lot of complete strangers far better than I’d ever wanted to in these past few weeks.

Uh oh, the man to my right is sweating profusely. Ew. I’ve got enough of that going on already, thank you!  Is it this hot for sardines when they’re canned? If I can just inch a little to my left… “Oh, Sumimasen,” Trapped. Only two more stops.

People shove by me as the train stops and I can’t help but think to myself, I’ll move, no need to push. A simple “sumimasen” will suffice, goodness. For such a considerate culture (in my experience), you’d better not try to stand in the way of a salarywoman who needs to exit the train if you value your limbs, or at least your shoes. “Kikuna desu!” That’s me! “Sumimasen, sumimasen,” The metro waits for no man! And to think, it’s only 8:05am and I have to come home later. Bring it on, evening rush hour.

 

Here’s a little vocab, in case you aren’t familiar with some of the words I used:

Gaijin: The less-than-polite term for “foreigner,” the correct term is “gaikokkujin,” but no one has time to say that these days.

Sumimasen: “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry”

Pasmo: The card, like an Oyster Card in London, that is scanned in order to get on and off the metro and trains.

Cranes: From Paper to Steel

Standard

DSC_8026

 

“Elvis” in Yoyogi Park on the weekend. There were so many different groups of people performing – from hip hop dancers to traditional Japanese dancers in kimonos to the group I found most fascinating, the Elvis impersonators!

IMG_1074

During the week, we decided to visit Akihabara. Here is Eric Mousin (left, psychology major from the University of Vermont) playing a Virtual Boy at Super Potato as Vince Cline (art major from Thomas More College in Kentucky) watches.

DSC_8643

The next day, I went to a restaurant called Gonpachi with my extended family for dinner. This was the restaurant where one of the main scenes from Kill Bill took place.

DSC_8632 copy

Unfortunately, most of the food was seafood which I am allergic to but it surely did look pretty! It was served in miniature boats and wicket baskets.

DSC_8601

Afterwards, I came across this crow who actually stole a piece of bread from a child at a nearby bench. These crows are unbelievably evil and loud! Also significantly larger than those in the U.S.

DSC_8681

View of Roppongi from a balcony at Ark Hills

DSC_8822 copy

 

I finally got the change to visit Odaiba, a manmade island famous for its giant Gundam statue and extensive shopping mall.

DSC_8847 copy

I took experimental pictures of the ferris wheel for my Digital Photography class and they turned out pretty disorienting.

image (2)

Between classes, I went to get lunch at a local pasta shop near Temple. A nice old man came by my table and gave me a flower he had made from a pamphlet on his table. I thanked him and then a few minutes later he came back with a toothpick holder. He continued making me origami until I had to leave for class and while we may not speak the same language, I would say that I made a friend.

Screenshot 2014-06-04 07.46.45

To finish off the week, Eric and I decided to try out this drumming game called Taiko. It was super fun and worth the blisters, in my opinion.

image (1)

And the best part of this week is that we both won our first crane game and got adorable giant stuffed bunnies. The secret is that there is a secret to winning each type of crane game. All it takes is watching a stranger play and then doing it for yourself.

 

Back in School (but at least there’s green tea)

Standard

It’s strange to think that I’ve been here for two weeks now. I look back on life before Tokyo and it seems like a millennium ago, not a mere matter of days, that I was sweating over final exams on Main Campus. Was there a time I wasn’t here? I think that now, but I know that at the end of the summer this experience will feel like an instant, not an eon. The carefully chaperoned tours and meetings of week one have given way to classes, an internship, and weekends filled with exploration. Though I’m only in two classes and an internship teaching English in a high school, I have plenty of homework to do and plenty of long commutes to do it in. It’s easy to study Japanese on the go here—all I have to do is look around me. I’m taking Japanese Elements I, and let me tell you, learning Japanese is no easy feat. The two hour class periods can be killer! Memorizing three writing systems is much harder than simply learning a different alphabet (Cyrillic in my case), and although I can now read at least some signs, I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying. I consider myself at least mildly adept at languages, but it’s a lot to process in a relatively short amount of time. Letters that were once mystical, magical symbols of enchantment, like  きっさてん, now just spell out “cafe,” leaving a sense of the mundane rather than the mysterious in their wake. Despite the loss of that ridiculously Western “enchantment” with Japanese script, I need to learn more. It kills me that I can’t process, understand, or even respond to 98% of the people I talk to outside of TUJ, including my fellow morning commuters, clerks at the 100 yen store, and even the woman at Caffe Veloce who makes my matcha (green tea) lattes.

IMG_1164 New York or Odaiba? It’s a mystery

Green tea. Now, green tea itself is not generally my first choice  of tea. Delicious once in a while, sure, but I’ve always been more of an English Breakfast (a little milk and a little sugar) kind of girl. However, drinking green tea is a far different, and in my opinion a much less exciting, activity than eating any and every green tea flavored food that I can get my hands on. I know what you might be thinking: “Green tea food? Really? How can that be any good?” You’d be surprised—it’s incredible. Green tea ice cream, green tea muffins, green tea donuts, Kit-Kats…the list goes on. I frequently have to stifle my touristy urge to buy something, even if I’m not hungry, simply because it says “matcha” on the package. While there are a lot of cultural and social norms here, many of which (like J-walking) I have yet to adjust to, I quickly learned to love green tea. I have to say though, there is no better exercise in patience than walking home from Mister Donut, green tea-flavored magic in hand, knowing that to give in to temptation and eat on the go is an egregious social offense. I can do nothing but take a deep breath, grip the bag a little tighter, and keep walking in order to avoid dirty looks from any and all passers-by. The donut will still be there in 5…4…3…2….

IMG_1165 <–A green tea donut. I know it looks a little like a caterpillar, but I couldn’t help myself. It was begging to be eaten.

Introduction to Japan

Standard

Image

Study abroad students after we finished our first day of orientation at Temple.

 

Image

TUJ students hike up Mount Takao (5/22) as one of the Temple-sponsored activities to welcome students for summer session.

 

Image

We enjoyed our bento boxes at the top of Mount Takao in preparation for our hike back down the mountain.

Image

Complimentary bento boxes provided by Temple. A great introductory meal to Japan!

Image

We enjoyed the sights of the top of Mount Takao as a group (study abroad students as well as other TUJ students).

Image

On the way down we were able to see many “great tradition” shrines.

Image

 

Some of us were even lucky enough to make wishes at these shrines. This consisted of burning incense and clapping three times in front of the shrines.

Image

And on the way down we got to see the mountain by cable car. The seats did not have any safety belts or bars, so the trip down was quite terrifying. Thank goodness for those nets.

Image

Afterwards we went to see the shopping district in Harajuku. While it was extremely crowded, the stores were colorful and sold some of the most unique items I had ever seen. They even sold 90’s McDonald’s toys!

Image

A couple of us traveled to Harajuku and Yoyogi Park to partake in the Laos Festival. There was tons of food and performances by dancers from Laos.

Image

However, it got pretty hot after a few minutes of standing in the sun.

Image

Many of us were interested in going to a cat cafe so we found one called Cafe Calico. While we were all amused, the cats were not. This one was hiding in the ceiling to get away from all of the people.

Image

Another thing that amused us… the bathrooms. Tokyo has some of the most complicated and luxurious toilets we have ever seen with options of massage, heat warming, cleaning and drying. This was something that none of us had ever experienced and while it was a little odd, we agreed that we love it.

Image

To finish off our first week, I was lucky enough to attend a baseball game for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. We were not expecting everybody to pull out mini umbrellas… we still have no idea where they came from.

Image

And after 6,700 miles of traveling, I finally feel at home.