Monthly Archives: September 2014

Responsibilities! Or Fun? Does the line even exist anymore?

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Like all students attempting to study abroad, one of my major concerns was how to make it affordable. So when I received an email about the Freeman Scholarship, offering up to $3000, it immediately caught my interest. There were several excellent internships to choose from, and they all sounded like they offered an educating and fun experience. However, the one that stood out the most to me was the internship at Delta Air Lines. The position was described as “data analytic” under the Finance department in Delta’s Japan branch. As a student pursuing a dual major in International Business and Management Information Systems, it sounded like a perfect match for me. Although finance isn’t my major, I’m not the type of guy who likes to live my life asking “what if.” I’d rather just take the chance. And I’m certainly glad I did!

 

A picture that I took on my way to the Immigration Bureau. Shinagawa looks pretty empty during the daytime in comparison to other cities I've seen so far

A picture that I took on my way to the Immigration Bureau. Shinagawa looks pretty empty during the daytime in comparison to other cities I’ve seen so far

The interview process was certainly nerve-racking. As expected, Delta Air Lines was definitely a popular choice as an internship. Upon arriving in Japan, I figured there would be some paperwork to complete for my internship, but I seriously underestimated the amount of work it took to complete the process. Fortunately, I had a lot of help along the way. If it wasn’t for the support of faculty members at TUJ and my host family, I probably wouldn’t have survived the process without at least one mental breakdown.

Cool Softbank Robot that greets you as you enter the cell phone store.

Cool Softbank Robot that greets you as you enter the cell phone store.

Anyways, after weeks of running around Japan fulfilling errands to do my internship (residence card, health insurance, worker’s permit, getting a cell phone, buying a suit with my okaa-san, opening a bank account, getting internship approval signatures from Temple, etc), it finally was show time.

Realized I really like taking walks down new places. There is just so much to see in Japan!

One eye on the map, the other on the view!

When I applied for an internship at Delta Air Lines, I was kind of expecting a small office, with interns simply doing a lot of busy work like sorting documents, since that was the kind of task I was given during my time at Cooper Hospital. Upon arriving on my first day, I was in for a big surprise! Delta’s office is located in the beautiful Shiroyama Trust Tower.

Yup, totally in love with this internship!

Yup, totally in love with this internship!

This massive building has 27 floors, with various companies on each level. I was given my own spacious cubicle with my own computer to work on. And the best part, I’m not doing busy work! My boss is a really great and funny guy. And all my co-workers are extremely friendly. Not to mention, I’ve been treated out to lunch every day I have worked here so far!

One of several beautiful cafeterias in Shiroyama Trust Tower!

One of several beautiful cafeterias in Shiroyama Trust Tower!

Last Monday was actually my first day of purchasing lunch. Choosing curry was a big amateur mistake. It didn’t occur to me that getting something saucy was a terrible mistake, since I was wearing formal clothes. Fortunately I avoided making a mess, but it took a lot longer for me to finish my meal.

Totally made my first amateur mistake.....Definitely should NOT order anything saucy when you are wearing formal clothes. Fortunately, nothing spilled, but the constant fear of dripping anything on my clothes made me eat a lot slower than planned

My first amateur mistake

I love everything about my internship so far, and I am really excited to be part of their team. It is clear that Delta has placed a lot of trust in my abilities, and I am definitely determined to surpass them.

Before my internship, I had always thought of work as something that people did in order to survive. But recently, as the line between fun and responsibility has become blurred (especially with my job as a blogger!), I’m beginning to think that there is no “work-life balance.” Life is simply what you make it out to be. If you are just trying to survive, then you never really get the chance to live!

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L is for Lawson, Loppi and Love

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If there’s one store that all TUJ students (whether they are under Japanese Admission or Study Abroad) know about, it’s Lawson. There’s one right next to the Azabu main building and it’s where they can go to get a quick bite to eat, catch up on some quality reading from a selection of magazines and pay their bills. (Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?) Yes, in Japan, you can pay your bills at the convenience store and this alone takes the word “convenience” to a new level. But I digress. It was Lawson that made me the happiest person this week. Just how did this little conbini make me the happiest person in the world in one day? Loppi, (ロッピー) that’s how.

But you may be wondering, “What the heck is Loppi?” Loppi is magic, that’s what it is. It’s a machine that you can find at any Lawson. Although it looks like an ATM machine it’s used to buy tickets to events (for concerts, sports, museum exhibitions, etc.) Thanks to Loppi, it was possible for me to buy a concert ticket to see Miyavi, one of the first Japanese artists I listened to that paved the way for my love of all Japanese music. It’s extremely convenient for those like me who are terrified of calling a Japanese venue for ticket information or going through complicated online registration in only Japanese in order to purchase a ticket online. Loppi was a lifesaver and a time-saver for me. Even though there isn’t an option for English, Loppi is fairly easy to operate for those with limited Japanese. But before I proceed, allow me to clarify one thing. The Loppi machine does not print out the actual tickets themselves. It allows you to pay for the ticket and receive it at Lawson. With that, here’s the step-by-step breakdown for what I had to do to get my concert ticket:

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After touching anywhere on the screen, you will see this screen. Touch the option on the left to search for your event via L-code or name of the event.

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Input the L-code for the event. This is a five digit number that is often available when you search for an event on Lawson’s website. I had an L-code for the concert so I found it to be a lot easier in terms of getting to it quicker. Touch the orange button that will appear on the lower right. However, if you don’t have an L-code, just search for the event by name, venue or artist. You will be taken to a page where you will be given options and must select which event and on what day you would like to attend.

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There it is. My desired concert. Artist, venue, date, time all correct. Now to select my preferred seating. 1st Floor please.

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Select how many tickets you want to purchase using the arrow buttons and the price at the bottom right will adjust itself. Some can only go up to a 4 ticket maximum while others have the option for up to 10. But seeing as how there’s only one of me, I think I can be satisfied with just one. Then press the orange button. If an error message pops up, that means the particular show/seat you selected is sold out or not available. If you need to go back, simply touch the back arrow on the top left corner of the screen.

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This page is just to accept the store’s minimal fee for using their Loppi machine. It’s literally a dollar so no harm in it. Press the orange button again.

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This is for those who have a Lawson card. Didn’t waste my time on this one. I didn’t have one so I selected the option that said いいえ (or no).

Enter your name (in hiragana) in first bar (doesn't matter if it's last name, first name or first name, last name). Make sure you hit the

Enter your name (in hiragana) in first bar (doesn’t matter if it’s last name, first name or first name, last name). Make sure you hit the button that says ー字あけるbetween your first and last name otherwise an error will pop up. You will see the katakana appear below the hiragana just to be sure that it is right. When you’re done, press the orange button that will appear on the lower right.

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Enter your phone number. I have a Japanese cellphone so I put in my number. You can also use the Japanese phone number of a friend. When you’re finished, press the orange button that will appear on the lower right.

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Time to confirm the order one last time. Artist, venue, event, date, time, number of tickets, seating all correct, but what is this? My full name isn’t there. I was missing a character in my last name.

As you can see, I had some trouble when the confirmation screen came up. I didn’t see my full name so I ended up going back several times and retyping it only to get the same result. It wasn’t until I asked one of the employees that I felt like a fool. It seemed that my full name would never come up on the screen because……wait for it……it was too long. (Gasp!) Luckily, the employee assured me that it was fine and I finished placing my ticket order.

Note: A final message will pop up after you push the orange button on the confirmation screen. It will ask if you understand that you cannot cancel the ticket once it has been purchased. Touch the button on the right, which says “はい”

Yes, print me out that lovely receipt so I can be one step closer.

Yes, print me out that lovely receipt so I can be one step closer.

Little receipt, you are what is going to help me see Miyavi live for the first time!

Little receipt, you are what is going to help me see Miyavi live for the first time!

After the receipt printed out, I had to take it to the front counter. They scanned the receipt and had me confirm the event, location, date and time. All was correct so I wrote my name on the receipt in katakana to make it official, (last name then first name of course.) The cashier took the receipt back and I paid for the ticket (cash or credit was fine.) At that point, all that stood between me and my concert ticket was an mere 60 seconds. (Yes, I said it, 60 seconds!) The cashier handed me my ticket and I’m pretty sure I heard a choir behind me.

やった!私のコンサートチケットを買った!私はMiyaviを見に行こう!

やった!私のコンサートチケットを買った!私はMiyaviを見に行こう!(Alright! I bought my concert ticket. I’m going to see Miyavi!)

In my hands was my ticket. My glorious ticket. The ticket that would allow me to see one of the artists I thought I would never in my life get to see. That evening, I went home with a smile on my face and a happy bounce in my step.

Study abroad student, Vivienne Shao, was able to get a ticket to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka thanks to Loppi.

Study abroad student, Vivienne Shao, was able to get a ticket to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka thanks to Loppi 🙂

Now you may be asking, “So where’s the love part of this?” Perhaps you’re wondering, “Did you find love at Lawson? Did you find some tall, handsome Japanese man capable of prolonging your stay in Japan?” Well, you’re only half right. I did find love but it wasn’t with a Japanese man. It was with a Japanese machine. (Woah, what?) Before you start panicking, let me clarify:

I Love Loppi!

That wasn’t too lame, right?

私は気にしないから、もう一回いう (I don’t care so I’ll say it one more time):

ロッピーが大好きです!

(I LOVE LOPPI!)

Local Shops-A Study Abroad Student’s Best Friends

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I have been in Japan for a little over three weeks now and with school in full swing, I have come to two realizations:

  1. I cannot keep going to restaurants every day for lunch and/or dinner. It makes my wallet (not to mention my bank account) very sad. (T_T)
  2. I cannot live on onigiri and other convenience store food as a means to cut my spending costs on food. It makes my stomach very sad. (T_T)

In an effort to please both my wallet and stomach simultaneously, I decided that it was time to explore the neighborhood and I am very glad that I did. Within walking distance from the Kitazono Women’s’ Dorm (my home for the next 3-4 months,) I found my three new best friends:

Cando 100 Yen Shop キャンドゥ 100円ショップ)

Kaldi Coffee Farm

Life Supermarket (ライフ)

Cando 100 Yen Shop—First and foremost, allow me to make this declaration: THE 100 YEN SHOP IS YOUR BEST FRIEND! Now that that is over and done with, allow me to elaborate a bit. When I first arrived at the dorm, there were things in the room already: hangers in the closet, a cooking pan, pot, three plates, one set of eating utensils, and other things that would last me for about 1-2 weeks. Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about after that? What about some food to fill the empty refrigerator? What about some dish detergent to wash those plates, the pot and the cooking pan? And most importantly, what about more toilet paper? The answer came in the form of a local dollar store called Cando 100yen Shop. For those in the US, when someone mentions a typical dollar store, what usually comes to mind? Cheap? Dirty? Low-quality goods? Lazy employees? Well, let me assure you that in Japan you could not be further from the truth. Cando (and other 100 yen shops for that matter) are the definition of what a dollar store should be. School supplies and other stationary, cooking and cleaning supplies (hello bento boxes), toiletries, health and beauty supplies, spices, snacks, animal and plant care products, Cando has them all at a low price. The employees are so nice and the store is incredibly well-kept. Since it’s on the second floor, when you go to Cando, you also have the convenience of having Yoshiya SainE, a fresh food market, on the first floor. Question: How many dollar stores have this? Answer: Not many. Several of the female study abroad students and I have made Cando a go-to for the necessities.

2 in 1, Cando 100yen shop and a SainE Fresh Food Plaza

2 in 1, Cando 100yen shop and a SainE Fresh Food Plaza

Oh, Cando, US dollar stores can learn a lot from you.

Oh, Cando, US dollar stores can learn a lot from you.

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Yoshiya SainE Fresh Food Plaza, conveniently located right below the 100yen shop. YAY!

Kaldi Coffee Farm—I’m not a coffee person so when I first came across Kaldi Coffee Farm, I didn’t even think about going in. However, don’t let the name fool you. While the first thing you smell is coffee, venture further into the store and you will find a little slice of home. As Spanish music fills your ears, you’ll find that one half of the store is dedicated to coffee and all of its forms (beans, iced, etc) while the rest is occupied by foreign goods; everything from Combos to peanut butter, Honey Bunches of Oats to pure maple syrup. Yes, they are a little on the pricey side, but I think it would be nice for the days where I feel homesick and need a little reminder of home.

I don't like coffee, but what the heck, I went in anyway.

I don’t like coffee, but what the heck, I went in anyway.

Coffee in the front

All the coffee you could dream of in the front…

And foreign goods in the back---wait is that Honey Bunches of Oats and PJ?

And foreign goods in the back—wait is that Honey Bunches of Oats and PJ?

Life Supermarket—This is the store closest to the Kitazono Women’s Dorm and I was in love when I walked in. If you enter through the main entrance, you are greeted by the pleasant smell of the bakery. Right across from the bakery is the produce section with as many fruits and vegetables as your heart could want. Towards the back of the store you can find the fresh fish and meat section. I have found that meat and fish are cheaper at night than they are in the day so I make it a habit to go meat and fish shopping at night rather than the day. They also have their own delicatessens section towards the far end of the store, where there have prepared meals, onigiri, sushi, tempura, desserts, etc. The second floor is occupied by a large general store that carries stationary, pet care items, household items, etc. I love to cook and now that I know what Life has to offer (yes, lame pun intended,) I have a feeling that I will find myself going there in my pajamas quite a lot in the future.

Life, you have saved my life.

Life, you have saved my life.

You tempt me with the sweet smell of curry bread and pastries!

You tempt me with the sweet smell of curry bread and pastries!

The inner chef in me was so happy to see this :)

The inner chef in me was so happy to see this 🙂

Freedom and Fun stuff!

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The thought that “maybe I signed up for too much” always occasionally slips into my mind whenever my schedule starts to overwhelm me. Japan has been the adventure I have always dreamed of, but lately there is just so much to do and so much to absorb, I can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s not a bad thing, but I’m not used to constantly being under a time pressure. The days back at home, following a mundane and repetitive schedule seems so far away nowadays. Kind of like how when you first enter college and thinking to yourself “wow, I feel like I had much more free time during high school!” Well I guess with more freedom, comes more responsibilities.

Freedom and Fun stuff:

The Otaku Cultural Center!

The Otaku Cultural Center!

One of the places I was most excited to see upon arriving in Japan was Akihabara, also known as the world’s Otaku Cultural Center. After finding each other at the station, we decided to experience having lunch at a maid café. (Yeah, I know Tiara, also did a blog post on the same place—I guess it’s almost a tradition to visit one when you’re in Japan!) Our maid knew just enough English to ask where we were from, demonstrate a really cute “ritual” to bless our food to taste good, and told us how excited she was to have us.

Here’s a picture of my meal! It’s so adorable! I wonder how they made it.

Here’s a picture of my meal! It’s so adorable! I wonder how they made it.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of anything else, but they did give us a keychain and photo with our maid to keep!

Here’s a picture of me with our maid! She was very energetic and great at dancing!

Here’s a picture of me with our maid! She was very energetic and great at dancing!

Next stop Animate! So if I was to summarize this place with one word, I would probably pick “paradise”!

Heaven on Earth!

Heaven on Earth!

This store is literally six floors with nothing but anime merchandise. I have never been more tempted to buy everything I saw in a store before. We literally spend hours here and never got tired of it! I am definitely coming back here to for souvenirs for friends!

This place is HUGE!! Unfortunately the panorama picture came out a bit weird since people were still moving about, but I guess this is why I'm a blogger and not a photo blogger!

This place is HUGE!! Unfortunately the panorama picture came out a bit weird since people were still moving about, but I guess this is why I’m a blogger and not a photo blogger!

For dinner, conveyor belt sushi!

おいしそう! Looks yummy!

おいしそう!
Looks yummy!

My friends who came back from study abroad total me that the sushi here is super fresh and taste so much better in comparison to what we had in the US, so I just had to experience the difference myself. Needless to say I was not disappointed.

The plates are color coded by price!

The plates are color coded by price!

We also made a pit-stop by the Gundam Café!

Greeting us at the entrance of the Gundam Cafe!

Greeting us at the entrance of the Gundam Cafe!

Much our surprise, there was actually a decent about of girls in there! We were expecting a bunch of guys since that’s usually what we are used to when it comes to the Gundam fan-base in the US. It’s cool to see some diversity in something I once thought was a predominantly male hobby.

Is it weird for me to take a picture of their bathroom? In addition to being super clean, they designed it to make you feel like you were actually piloting a Gundam!

Is it weird for me to take a picture of their bathroom? In addition to being super clean, they designed it to make you feel like you were actually piloting a Gundam!

After a fun Saturday with friends, I stayed home on Sunday to catch up on homework and spend time with my host family. Around evening, otou-san told me that there was a local Matsuri, and asked if I wanted to take a break from homework to walk with him. And I’m certainly glad I did!

Wish we had these in the US!

Wish we had these in the US!

There were kids doing taiko drumming, all the fun games you would normally see in an anime Matsuri episode, and the food smelled delicious!

To the left we have the shrine, to the right we have the taiko drummers!

To the left we have the shrine, to the right we have the taiko drummers!

The goal of this game is to catch a goldfish, without breaking your net! It's a lot harder than it sounds!

The goal of this game is to catch a goldfish, without breaking your net! It’s a lot harder than it sounds!

The food smells and looks amazing! But I'm pretty sure it has nothing against okaa-san's cooking!

The food smells and looks amazing! But I’m pretty sure it has nothing against okaa-san’s cooking!

We did a quick prayer to the gods, enjoyed the festival, before returning home to okaa-san’s world-class cooking.

It looks just as good as it tastes!

It looks just as good as it tastes!

Seeing a Familiar Face in an Unknown Place-The Fight Against Homesickness Starts

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From the day I arrived, I was in the honeymoon phase with Japan. I was absolutely in love with whatever I saw. The Japanese McDonalds by the train station? Sugoi! The shiba inu walking past me? Kawaii! The random ice cream wrapper on the ground? Subarashi! (Alright, they get it. Let’s scale it back a little.) It wasn’t until after my first week of school that it began to slowly creep up on me…homesickness.

I started to realize that yes, I had finally made it to the one country I wanted to go to since I was a child, but then I thought about it more and it sunk in slowly. I was here. Just me. Not with family, friends or anyone with whom I could identify. Only me. I was by myself in Japan. Even with the convenience of Facebook, Skype, and Line, at the end of the day, nothing can really compare to the face to face interaction one can have with a friend or family member and I began to miss it dearly. (Homesickness level…95%)

But then I received a message later that week that changed my entire mood. I found out that two of my good friends from my home university were English teachers in Aomori and Kyoto and wanted to set up a little reunion during the following weekend. I was absolutely elated. Just from the anticipation, my heart felt lighter and I couldn’t wait to see a familiar face in this unknown place. (Homesickness level…80%)

Upon arriving at Ueno Station, I was greeted by…three people? (I was only expecting two. What is this madness?) But yes, the other person was a Chinese co-worker of one of my friends. We exchanged formal greetings, but I think we both sensed each other’s nervousness. Either way, we dismissed it and went on our way to get a quick lunch (surely food can help ease the tension, right?)

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A little Japan Club reunion between me and my two senpais, Jordan and Ashley. Instant “Homesickness Repellent”

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Food is capable of bringing people together and getting rid of the awkwardness of meeting new people.

Of course, food brings everyone together! (Homesickness level…65%)

Just as the nervousness of meeting someone new started to fade away, it came back when I found out we would be going to someone else’s apartment in Saitama and staying there for the weekend. Even though my friend told me that he was a very relaxed person, a rush of questions rushed through my mind: What if he doesn’t like me? He’s Japanese and doesn’t understand English that well. Will my Japanese be good enough? What if I end up offending him and not knowing it? I forgot to bring him a gift. Will he be insulted? (Can you tell I was nervous yet?) As a result, I clung to the safety of my old friends for dear life. (Warning! Homesickness levels raising…85%)

Thankfully, he was a relaxed person so my worries were for nothing. He did however, speak very little English so from time to time, I had to look to the others to translate. But I will say this, it was a great opportunity to naturally learn conversational Japanese. Yes, I fumbled on some words and phrases, but you can’t learn without making mistakes right? His apartment was small (it was a single room apartment) but with some clever interior rearranging (aka moving the kotatsu from the middle of the floor) and playing a little human Tetris, all 5 of us slept in a 12ftx20ft room. What I didn’t expect was for this small room to bring us all closer together. Because our group consisted of people who were Chinese, Japanese, African American, Caucasian and Latin American, we had mini UN Q&A sessions to find out more about each other’s cultures. Of course none of us could answer for our own countries in their entireties, but we did the best we could from what we knew. In this small room in Japan, our little group managed to break down some cultural barriers and deepen our bond. (Homesickness level…60%)

Throughout the weekend, we explored Saitama, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara; meeting and recruiting new people into our group along the way (including a Military Defense Attorney and a former lab worker of the Maruchan Ramen Company, the one that college students know so well.) It’s amazing how you can meet people in the most unexpected situations and how they can really make the whole experience a lot better. As time went by, I found myself missing home less and less.

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トマトビーフとふわふわオムライス(Tomato Beef Stew and Fluffy Omurice) at Dining Out 53–いただきます!

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The amazing view of the city that came with lunch 🙂

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Yoyogi Park is so close but so far away!

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We added more people to our group, Shouta, Keiko, and Hiroki. Told you food brings people together.

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Hachiko approves of our friendship.

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Conveyer Belt Sushi in Shibuya with our newest recruit, Michael, a military defense attorney.

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Holy cow! Never in a million years did I think I would ever do purikura. Oh look, has it been a million years already?

Taking in the fantastic view with my lunch at Dining Out 53 in Shinjuku, going to a Purikura booth in Harajuku, commemorating a newly found friendship by Hachiko then going to for conveyer belt sushi and karaoke in Shibuya and going to the Gundam Café in Akihabara; all of these things and more were made so much more enjoyable once I realized that they wouldn’t have been possible had I been back in the US. (Homesickness level…50% and stabilizing…) 

What started as an attempt to hold onto home turned into 36 hours of venturing further away from it and doing a lot of exciting things for the first time. Japan is a unknown place to me right now, but you know what they say? A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. I think that may be the key to fighting homesickness. Just get out there, meet new people and explore new places. No, the homesickness is not completely gone but it’s a process that requires you to make an actual effort. That being said, I will dedicate myself to doing just that. I will explore more and more of this beautiful country so by the end of my time here, I will see Japan as a familiar face.

Experience the Kawaii, Taste the Kawaii (^_^)

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What began as a mission to get a phone in Akihabara, became an unexpected journey outside of my comfort zone and into all things kawaii.

With our phones bought, my friend and I decided to explore the Electric City and after turning a random corner (because that’s the only way to explore properly), we soon came across a maid. She told us about the Maidreamin Maid Café and what they do there. I finally gave in and she kindly escorted us to the building where the café was. During the 5-minute walk there, she pulled out a small walkie-talkie and informed someone that she was bringing two guests. I didn’t know who she was talking to exactly, but by the time we got to the building, another maid met us at the entrance and took us into the café.

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Maidreamin welcomes you! いらっしゃいませにゃ!

Two words can summarize the entire experience…CUTENESS OVERLOAD! I was not ready for everything that happened within the one hour we were there. Our maid was adorable as she presented us with the Grand Menu, which listed the different foods, desserts, drinks, etc. They also had services that the guests could pay for. For instance, for 500yen guests could take a picture with the maids, for 700yen the maids could play games with them and for 900yen, they receive glow sticks and could have the maids perform live on a mini stage.

I decided to have a strawberry parfait (while my friend had the chocolate parfait) and while we waited, our maid, Tora, kept us entertained. Being the only female customers (and the only African American ones at that), we felt a bit awkward, but she asked us questions like where we were from and why we came to Japan and she did her best to make us feel as comfortable as possible. Everything about her was charmingly adorable: her outfit, her way of speaking, her mannerisms, her whole demeanor.

How can dessert be this cute?

Strawberry Parfait—How can dessert be this cute?

But wait! The cuteness did not stop there! When our desserts came out, Tora had us say a “spell” with her that would make the desserts extra delicious. (Excuse me while I prepare myself.) “Oishii oishii naruite moe moe kyuuu!” (or “おいしい おいしい なるいて もえもえ きゅう~,” which roughly translates to “Become Delicious! Become Delicious! Cute! Cute!”) In the middle of our dessert, two maids announced a random drawing for two sets of rabbit ears. My friend and I looked at each other and before I knew it, I felt a pair of fluffy rabbit ears being placed on my head. わたしはとてもはずかしかった! (I was so embarrassed!) But at that moment, I was officially a princess (for the rest of the hour anyway.)

They made me a fluffy princess! Now where are my rabbit underlings?

They made me a fluffy princess! Now where are my cute bunny underlings?

Me and Jennifer, another study abroad student who lives in the same dorm. We're princesses at last.

Me and Jennifer, another study abroad student who lives in the same dorm. We’re princesses at last.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the maids try to engage everyone in whatever they do, even if they have their own customers. For example, even though one guest paid to have their maid perform on stage, the rest of the guests were encouraged to join in and enjoy the show. At some point, a guest was leaving and the maids had everyone in the café (guests and maids alike) say “Nya nya!” as a final farewell. (See, I told you it was cuteness overload.)

Upon finishing our desserts, we were approached by another maid who had us do another spell (and you better believe this one included hand motions as well.) “Oishikatta oishikatta nya!” (or “おいしかったおいしかったにゃ,” meaning, “It was delicious. It was delicious! Meow!”)

But alas, the time came for us to leave. Our hour was up, our stomachs were full and our faces hurt from smiling so much. Going to a maid café was definitely a unique experience and one I don’t think I would have considered going through had I not been in Japan. I don’t consider myself to be the kind of person who would normally partake in “cutesy” things, but the maids themselves work hard to make sure each and every customer has a wonderful time and they really make the café come to life, so why not go and experience the kawaii?

The Adventure Begins!

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The Adventure Begins!

So like most study aboard students, I did a lot of studying on Japan culture and language before arriving so that I knew exactly what I signed up for. Initially, when I entered Japan, I expected a high tech country. The way my textbooks told me stories of Japan’s high-tech toilets, bullet trains that reach speeds of approximately 150-200 mph, and earthquake resistance infrastructures left me with the impression of a country that was decades ahead of the US in terms of technology. But in reality, Japan really seems to be more of a mixture of ancient and modern culture. I got previews of both cultures and how they co-existed within the country when my host mom took me home after a long trip from the airport.

The impression my textbooks give me

The impression my textbooks give me

Hidden behind all the technology and streetlights, I found a more traditional side of Japan

Hidden behind all the technology and streetlights, I found a more traditional side of Japan

As I began to adjust to accepting the fact that I’m certainly not in Philly, I began to shift my attention to differences between the two cities. Everything felt so familiar, yet was completely different upon closer inspection. The familiarity of 7-eleven, was especially welcoming in a country where I felt completely lost!

Oh look! Something familiar in a completely different country!

Oh look! Something familiar in a completely different country!

Upon entering, I quickly realized how different it was from the 7-eleven’s I knew back at home. The plethora of anime merchandise certainly brought a smile to the child inside of me, however, realizing I wasn’t as good as I thought at reading kanji, I resisted the temptation to purchase a copy of this week’s Shonen Jump. I decided to I settled for the familiar katsu-don instead of trying out some of the more adventurous options. After meticulously planning the conversation I was expecting to have at the register, I ended up resorting to using nods instead since the speed of his honorific language was a bit too much for me to handle.

Why can't 7-eleven in the US have a mini library?

Why can’t 7-eleven in the US have a mini library?

Another noticeable difference between Philly and pretty much all of Japan, was the degree of cleanliness. The grossness of public transit which is the norm for Philly, was not seen at the public transits of Japan. While the trains were uncomfortable cramped and quiet, it was super clean and everyone was very polite. Even the streets are spotless despite not having any public trash cans (a friend later explained that this was a precautionary measure against terrorist threats). In fact, it was pretty difficult to find any place that wasn’t clean. I consider myself to be pretty organized and clean, but the degree of cleanliness and organization that my host family demonstrated in their house is simply astonishing.

So after much debate, I decided to spare my readers a summary of my long journey from the airport since it was pretty uneventful and went exactly like it was supposed to, despite me feeling like a lost child throughout the whole process. Instead let’s skip to the fun part, the Barbeque at Ranzan Gorge!

Not as popular as the beach I suppose, but just as fun!

Not as popular as the beach I suppose, but just as fun!

Checking out the picnic area

Checking out the picnic area

My group was awesome, and I got to experience my first time setting up a camp fire with the group.

Team awesome!!

Team awesome!!

We also played some traditional Japanese beach games, which was a great time!

A splendid miss!

A splendid miss!

This was definitely a great time, despite the fact that I totally forgot to bring sandals with me and had to walk on rocks!!

Group shot, courtesy of Student Activities!

Group shot, courtesy of Student Activities!

Face Your Fears-Morning Rush Hour Subway Commute in Japan

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Since Fall semester has officially begun, it’s time for students to revisit their class schedules, decide whether or not they want to add, drop or withdraw from one or more of their classes and overall get reacquainted with the real world, which includes commuting to and from school.

I had only seen pictures and heard frightening stories about the dreaded morning rush hour subway commute in Japan. In an attempt to avoid having to experience it (as well as any level of claustrophobia that may decide to do a sneak attack on me) firsthand, I tried to schedule my classes accordingly, but alas, I could not escape. With my first class at 9:20AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I leave the dorm just in time for the 8’oclock rush hour. Oh joy….here we go.

Well, what can I say? It is certainly…an experience? (Yeah, experience, we’ll go with that.) I arrived at the Itabashi-kuyakushoumae Station (“いたばしくやくしょまええき” or “板橋区役所前駅”) and when the first train came, I could not believe what I saw. There were so many people packed in the train like sardines. Then I looked around me and realized there was a large number of people who were all intending to board the same train. At that moment, my eyes widened and I said to myself, “Nope! You’ll get on the next one.” Oh, foolish, naive me.

The next train came within 10 minutes and by that time, an entirely new large group of people had formed on the platform. The second train was packed even tighter than the first, with people pushing their way in, entering backwards and trying to avoid getting caught in the train doors as they were closing. I stood there in both amazement and fear for my fate. I was finally brought back to reality once I realized what time it was. I thought, “Ok, clearly this is not going to get any better and you will NOT be late for your class. You’re getting on the next train, no matter what!” I stepped away from the wall and up to the line to wait for the next train.

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O_O—my face when I saw this. NOPE! Next train, you’ll get on the next train.

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O_O I thought…it wouldn’t be so bad….Next train, you’ll DEFINITELY get on the next train. Time to face your fears!

As expected, it arrived and it was packed, but I boarded anyway. Immediately, I was pushed further in by those behind me. I spent the last 20 minutes watching people pack into a train car like sardines and now I was one of them. It would be another 30 minutes until the train would reach my stop and hoped I would survive until then.

I didn’t know where to breathe. I was surrounded. There was someone in front of me and I didn’t want to breathe in his ear (like Brainy from Hey Arnold, the one who would always breathe heavily behind Helga.) My solution? Look up and admire the wonderful Japanese advertisements! Luckily, they had the air conditioner on because if they didn’t everyone would have died from carbon dioxide poisoning. But alas, I survived the rush hour experience and lived to tell the tale (which in and of itself calls for a self-congratulatory pat on the back,) and now I know what to expect on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. All in all, the morning rush hour is an adjustment and once I get used to it, it will get better. We learn from our experiences and taking the Japanese subway during morning rush hour is definitely one I will never forget.

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The next day around 10 AM. Oh, what a difference an hour or two makes when it comes to the morning subway commute.

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Evening Rush Hour—not as bad as morning rush hour. Phew!

 

Introductions!

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Hello everyone!

My name is Steven! よろしくお願い!Since this will be my first post from Japan, I will begin by dedicating my first post to introductions. I am a student form Temple University Main Campus, dual majoring in International Business and Management Information Systems. I have always wanted to travel to Japan, so when I learned about Temple’s study aboard program, I immediately signed myself up. I had various reasons for enrolling in this exciting program. For instance, as an adult, I want observe how globalization has transformed the world, and to learn as much as I can about Japan by completely immersing myself in it. However, the child inside of me wants to roam the country and buy everything (especially anime and Gundam related products). For my readers’ sake, I’ll be sure to try to keep it balanced.

I am living with the wonderful Sakashita family. We live in Shimo Kita-ku, a town about 45 minutes from TUJ’s campus. Shimo is a very quiet and peaceful town, especially in comparison to the surrounding cities. The Sakashita family is a family of four: otou-san, okaa-san, Takahiro, and Erika. Otou-san used to work at a pharmacy, but now, he has retired. It seems that his company likes to call him into work all the time to train the new drug store workers so he usually comes home pretty late. I recall that he likes to play golf. Okaa-san works in real estate. Her cooking is the best, and she is very organized! I’ve been taking pictures every meal to brag to friends, and as my way of showing her how much I appreciate and enjoy her cooking.

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Some Indian Curry and Yam that Okaasan made for dinner! For our side dishes: tofu with soy sauce, and salad!!

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For breakfast, pizza toppings on toasted bread! Of course with a side of salad and fruits! Japanese people seem to have a very balanced and healthy diet.

おいしいそう!

Takahiro, apparently has his own house, however he occasionally visits for dinner. He told me that he is part of a band call Mrs Scottie Pippen! Isn’t that cool? I’ll be sure to listen to his band’s music before he visits for dinner. Last but not least, is their energetic and intelligent daughter, Erika. She went to high school in the US so she is fluent in English (she will be your lifeline if you enter the Sakashita household). She currently works for MathWorks and has worked for amazing companies such as Oracle and Google. Living with a host family has been great so far, and I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to the family for their kindness and patience.

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Our local post office! Once of the landmarks I took a picture of to make sure I don’t get lost on the way home.

It still feels very surreal that I’m actually in Japan. The past few days passed by so quickly, I can hardly believe that I’ve been here for almost a week already! I already acquired tons of stories I would love to share with my readers in this past week. Originally, when I entered Japan, I thought I would be entering a really high-tech country! But it seems that it is more of a mix of a very traditional culture along with a lot of high-end technology. I’ll be sure to take some pictures to show the contrast next time. At this point, I’m still having trouble getting a normal sleep schedule and often find myself awake around 5 am messaging family and friends back home. This probably due to a combination of jet-lag, the excessively bright and early sunrise, and my desire to explore. I honestly doubt I will ever experience homesickness while in Japan! With so many adventures to explore, there are simply not enough hours in each of my days! In my next post, I will go into more details about this week’s adventure with the airport, train station, BBQ, and trip to Shibuya! Please look forward to it!

Welcome to Japan! Now What? TUJ Study Abroad Student Orientation!

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August 26th was the day that began everything. I arrived in Japan at Narita Airport and was officially on Japanese soil. My heart was ecstatic, but unfortunately, my body was exhausted from the 13 1/2 hour nonstop flight it had just been through. Nevertheless, I had finally made it to my destination. I was in Japan.

After making my way to the Kitazono Women’s Dorm and getting a good night’s rest (or a much needed coma really), I realized I had to overcome another obstacle: Temple University Japan Campus Study Abroad Orientation. (Insert intimidating thunder and lightning here.) Dun Dun DUUUUUUN!

Welcome to Temple University Japan Campus (^_^)

Welcome to Temple University Japan Campus (^_^)

Various TUJ staff members gave presentations throughout the orientation, including Dr. Kyle Cleveland, the Study Abroad Coordinator, Jonathan Wu, the Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Wataru Nishida, the Chief Information Officer and through the wonders of technology (aka the Iphone), Mariko Nagai, the Study Abroad Academic Coordinator. After each speaker approached the front to give their words of wisdom to the group of curious (and let’s not forget jetlagged) new arrivals, one question was asked: “How many of you are from the main campus?” (It was asked seven times to be exact and yes, I counted!) Apart from this little icebreaker, the information that was provided was extremely helpful. They covered topics such as the procedure to add, drop, or withdraw from a course and the different timeframes allotted for each, emergency and crisis procedures (have to be prepared from those earthquakes and typhoons after all), different student government and semester activities, and getting settled in Japan.

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Chief Information Officer, Wataru Nishida, encourages the study abroad students to not just “live in” Japan, but to “experience” Japan.

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Chief Operating Officer, Paul Raudkepp, reviews emergency and crisis procedures. We must keep the children safe!

The two-day orientation was filled with humor, useful information, the Japanese Language Placement Test (for those registered for a Japanese course level higher than Japanese Elements I) and good pizza (thank you Japanese Dominos), but at the end of it all we were left with memorable comments such as:

“Your experience is largely dependent on what you make of it.” -Dr. Kyle Cleveland

and

“Take a risk and experience anew. If you want to go to an onsen, take off all of your clothes and go to an onsen. There are so many things waiting for you, but you have to experience them.” -Wataru Nishida

Reflecting back on it now, they made perfect sense. Think about it for a minute. We all made the decision to take the initiative and fill out the application to study abroad. We all applied for the Japanese Certificate of Eligibility and student visas. We all bought our plane tickets, boarded our planes and are now in Japan! Now there are two options for what can happen and they are both dependent on the individual. It can be the most wonderful experience in a person’s life if they can have an open mind, allow themselves to relinquish the control they are so used to having, and delve into a world they are unfamiliar with or it can be an utterly miserable one, where each day becomes torture to get through until the day they board the flight back home. I don’t know about you but personally, I’ll take door number one, please and thank you. So I say make an effort to learn the language, explore the country that you are in, and let yourself really experience it because let’s be honest; no one else is going to live your life for you so why not take that leap and make the most out of it?