Monthly Archives: August 2014

Final Reflections on a Summer Well Spent


So I’m now officially home. In fact, this will be my last blog entry and my final (written) words on an adventure of a summer that I’ll remember forever. I learned a lot, both about myself and the world around me, so I compiled a list of some of the things that I discovered while abroad.

Things I learned from Japan:

  1. There is no set of stairs too short to have a paralleling escalator.
  2. Always bring a mini towel everywhere you go. You never know when the humidity is going to hit 90 percent when you’re wearing a business suit. Or really any clothes at all. They will be soaked immediately along with your face and your soul. Goodbye, meticulously applied makeup. The same goes for fans. Always carry a fan.
  3. Life is too short not to eat as many Mister Donut donuts as humanly possible. There’s an old Japanese proverb that goes: “A cronut a day keeps the doctor away.” At least, I think that’s how it goes….
  4. Sometimes the tourist crowds are worth it. Sometimes they’re not. Don’t let a guidebook decide for you what’s worth seeing, because if you hate crowds, the Sumidagawa fireworks festival is going to be awful no matter how much you love fireworks.
  5. It’s okay to wear heels wherever you want, whenever you want. This applies to both men and women as far as I can tell.
  6. A little politeness and courtesy go a long way. Say “please” and “thank you” to food service workers, don’t walk and eat a meal, and being the only loud person on a crowded subway or bus means you’re probably doing something wrong. Is a little consideration too much to ask?
  7. Don’t be afraid to use a foreign language, even if “please,” “thank you,” and “hello” are the only words you know. It does a make a difference.
  8. It’s okay to not like a food, especially if it’s squid or sea urchin, but major points for at last trying it. Especially if you didn’t pay for it yourself, it’s just the polite thing to do to try what’s put in front of you. Life isn’t always burgers and fries, and that’s really for the best.
  9. Be responsible, but don’t miss out on opportunities because you’re worried about money. I know this is easier said than done, but as someone who is largely frugal, I’ve regretted not doing things because of money before. I don’t really know how I’m going to buy books this fall, but Tokyo is what I’ll remember forever. There were no holds barred on this trip and I had an amazing experience. No regrets.
  10. Always take opportunities, even if they’re scary. Doing something is always better than wondering what could have been. My prime example of that is this trip to Japan. Before I left, I panicked about whether I was making the right decision to go. I freaked out. I tried to talk myself out of it. I looked for reasons not to go. But I’m so glad I did. Coming to Japan has been an incredible experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Of course, I learned many things that aren’t included on this list, but these seemed to be the things, both lighthearted and serious, that stood out the most. A year ago, I would not have believed you if you’d told me I would spend Summer 2014 studying in Japan. It’s one of the most impulsive, random choices I’ve ever made, and I don’t regret it for an instant.



The End of an Era


As predicted, the last two and a half months in Japan have flown by in a whirlwind of classes, internships, and activities. In fact, my time in Japan has already drawn to a close, and I am writing this entry from a hostel in Seoul, South Korea, where I am spending a few days visiting friends before heading back to the US of A. I’m faced with the prospect of returning home to my first three weeks of summer since, well, summer began, and I am beside myself. A small part of me is excited to go home, but the rest of me, the overwhelming part that never gets homesick and constantly seeks adventure, is heartbroken over the prospect of settling back into the “same old, same old” and the doldrums of the fall semester.

This experience has been so different from what I anticipated in so many ways. Japan crept up on me. I didn’t have many expectations, either good or bad, about my experience, which consequently made it hard to form opinions once I arrived. The more time I spent in Tokyo, the more things I discovered to love and hate in very unequal measure. There are definitely things about Tokyo that bothered me, or that I, as a foreigner, found unnerving and frustrating. But there were many more aspects of the culture and daily life that I found pleasantly different from daily goings-on in the States. I am frequently asked the question “What will you miss most about Japan?” And though the obvious answer is “the food,” or “the culture,” or “matcha lattes, of course!” I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. More than anything, I am going to miss the people. I’ve made amazing friends both at school and at my internship and it tears me apart that I have no idea when I may see any of them again. I’m going to miss being surrounded by the Japanese language and feeling a sense of accomplishment in communicating even the most basic ideas. I’m going to miss the utterly ridiculous over-prevalence of combinis, because how will I survive without a Lawson’s, Family Mart, and 7-11 every 300 feet? Where will I buy my mildly overpriced, oddly tiny hot matcha lattes and accompanying baked goods?

IMG_1880The Great Buddha at Kamakura, a place I would love to spend more time.

I reflect on all the tourist attractions I didn’t get a chance to see—all the places I didn’t visit due to either time or monetary constraints: the shrines unvisited, cities unexplored, museums unsought—and I know I have to come back. Already, my brain is working furiously to find a way to return as soon as possible, somehow tying a trip across Siberia and down to Tokyo into my potential study abroad plans for next spring. I think about all the friends I made here, plenty of whom are coming back to Philly, but just as many of whom are not. Will I be able to come visit? I can’t help but hope that I’ll be back as soon as possible to see old friends and make new ones, experience new sights and places and return to those that I fell in love with this time around. Tokyo is unlike any city I’ve ever been to in so many ways, both good and bad, and I know it will call me back again.

Yokohama by the Bay


Classes are over. Finals are over. In fact, my time in Japan is effectively over. I had my first real, commitment-free day of summer this past Tuesday and I spent the majority of it at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School, the site of my internship, eating lunch with my boss, seeing some of my students  friends, and helping teach English to the most endearing elementary school children on the planet. Though summer break is in effect for Kanasoh, I suppose some students, much like me, just couldn’t stay away. After I bid them adieu and saw the elementary schoolers off, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the beautiful Yokohama bay area. My plans to pay homage to everyone’s favorite instant ramen at the Cup Noodle Museum were foiled by a “closed” sign, so I meandered around the waterfront and enjoyed the salt breeze instead. I then took a trip up Japan’s fastest elevator to the top of the Yokohama Landmark Tower and Skygarden to take in the stunning views of the bay and cityscape. Passing cargo ships carved patterns into the sparkling blue water. The glassy buildings of downtown Yokohama glimmered in a hushed blanket of photochemical smog, intensified by the humidity. Yokohama seems to sprawl out forever—flat bay land giving way to hills and valleys. It’s impossible to tell where this city ends and the next city in the Tokyo Metro Area begins in the continuous expanse of concrete and glass. The city of Yokohama itself has about 3,700,000 people, making it just a little smaller than Los Angeles.

IMG_1929Yokohama Landmark Tower

Its Chinatown is a grand expression of all things both stereotypically and more traditionally Chinese. Hundreds of restaurants, all seemingly selling the same dishes, line the streets, inviting in the hungry tourist with colorful picture menus. Souvenir shops punctuate lantern-lit alleys and if I wanted a fan, a charm, or a lucky cat, I’d have fifteen different options to buy them from. The Bay Area boasts “Cosmo World,” an amusement park with a brilliantly lit ferris wheel that towers over the rest of the substantially less-exciting rides. Shopping co-mingles with office complexes and museums in this shimmering, modern area, and for some reason I can’t quite explain, Yokohama’s downtown reminds me a bit of Philadelphia, though there aren’t too many wild similarities.

IMG_1316The impressive Chinatown Gate

I was told several times, “There’s not much to do in Yokohama,” but I’m not sure I agree. No, it’s not as big as Tokyo nor as crowded and busy, but maybe that’s why I liked it. Its downtown was more singular, in place of Tokyo’s various “downtowns” such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Otemachi, and the glass skyscrapers that dotted the skyline were more reminiscent of Center City than Times Square. It is by no means as exciting as Tokyo, though they share a metro area, but I suppose having ten million more people is bound to provide excitement. The strange thing is, as much as I like huge cities (which is good because Tokyo’s the largest in the world), I for some inexplicable reason found myself wishing I’d spent more time exploring Yokohama. I could almost see myself living there in a way that I sometimes struggled to in Tokyo, though I’d live there in a heartbeat as well. Besides, in Japanese commuting time, the 35-40 minute long express train to Shibuya is really a hop, skip, and a jump from Yokohama to Tokyo. The idea of the two largest cities in Japan essentially being connected is bizarrely mind-blowing to me, perhaps because the U.S.’s two largest cities are on opposite coasts. In some ways they blend together, but in others they are totally separate entities. More like siblings than twins, Yokohama is often overshadowed by its high-achieving older brother and precocious younger cousin, Kyoto. But this city has a thirst to be recognized and plenty to offer, if only you’re willing to take a few days and seek it.