Monthly Archives: September 2015

Adventures During Silver Week, Osaka and Kyoto!

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Since we had 5 days off during silver week, my friends and I decided to go somewhere. We all wanted to go to Kyoto and Osaka to experience different parts of Japan. South of Tokyo, it is very different from the Japan we are used to. We took the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Osaka and stayed there for two nights. It was unbelievably fast. The train is a feat of technology and engineering all on its own.

The Shinkansen (bullet train). It was quite impressive!

The Shinkansen (bullet train). It was quite impressive!

We arrived after two hours on the train and checked into our hotel. Our room was on the 49th floor and as soon as we entered the room we were greeted with an amazing view. I immediately noticed that the lay of the land was very different from Tokyo. It seemed a lot more expansive. The sprawl of the city was amazing! There was nothing but buildings and mountains as far as the eye could see.

The view from the Osaka at night! It was beautiful!

The view from the Osaka at night! It was beautiful! It is very different from Tokyo.

The next morning we went to Osaka castle. I had wanted to go because I had seen many pictures of the famous castles in books I read. The castle was the site of a famous siege in the 17th century in which the Tokugawa family defeated another clan, the Toyotamis, and consolidated their power. The Tokugawas would dominate Japan until the 19th century when Commodore Perry lowered his guns against Tokyo harbor and demanded Japan open up her ports. The castle was huge. It sat on a stone base and had many statues on the outside that were painted gold. It was a long walk to get up to the castle! As I walked I wondered how anyone could have possibly taken this castle. It was surrounded by a moat and layers of walls. It made me appreciate the military genius of Tokugawa Ieyasu. To be able to take a place like Osaka castle is an impressive feat.

Osaka Castle. It was huge and beautiful!

Osaka Castle. It was huge and beautiful!

Inside there was an impressive museum. It included explanations about the Siege of Osaka and the background behind the siege. It had an impressive array of weaponry, armor, and art. Some of the art was very impressive. The painted wood panels were gorgeous and depicted the battle in a brilliant fashion. We went to the top afterwards and were greeted with an amazing view!

The view of a statue from the roof. They had screens to keep people from falling.

The view of a statue from the roof. They had screens to keep people from falling.

We came back to the hotel amazed at what we experienced and made us all the more excited for Kyoto. We went to Kyoto the next day and stayed at a hostel. Hostels in Japan are the best. I read online some places that people would never stay at a hostel except in Japan. It was actually a very nice place for very cheap. As soon as we dropped our stuff off we went to go explore. The city was a dream for an architecture lover like me. There were gorgeous temples and shrines all over. Apparently there are over 2,000 of them in Kyoto alone!

A shrine in Kyoto. It seemed like they were around every corner.

A shrine in Kyoto. It seemed like they were around every corner.

Unfortunately the day we went to the famous temples, Kinkaku-ji, the gold temple on the water, and Kiyomizu-dera, the temple famous for its veranda, I forgot my cell phone and could not take a picture of them. But the memories I have from the temple are with me. They were gorgeous beyond all belief. When most people think of Japan, they think of Tokyo and many rarely venture outside of Tokyo. But there is so much more to Japan than Tokyo. Many of the regions are unique and each prefecture has its own unique food and dialect. If you ever go to Tokyo, make sure you take trips outside of Tokyo. Much how like New York does not represent the entire United States, Tokyo does not represent all of Japan. In order to truly understand Japan, consider taking trips to other places. You might be surprised at the differences you find.

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Oh, Onsens!

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This past weekend I went to an Onsen. It was a wonderful experience. The Onsen is not only used for cleaning yourself, but also for rest, relaxation, and socializing. We arrived soon after playing paintball in Chiba. I was covered in paint and was happy to finally to be able to bathe after being nailed by so many paintballs. When we first arrived I was struck by just how fancy the place was. It was similar to my house in the fact that you had to take off your shoes before entering and put them in a shoe locker.

It was so pretty! They had a courtyard in the middle surrounded by a small moat.

It was so pretty! They had a courtyard in the middle surrounded by a small moat.

Before you even consider going to an Onsen, find reading material on the do’s and don’ts of Onsens. It was fortunate for us that they gave us reading materials on the Onsen. It was almost ritual-like with what we had to do. We first had to bathe ourselves in a certain way before getting in the bath. This was understandable. The place can’t be constantly changing out their bathwater. Washing off most of the filth helps the place out by saving them money and time, and Japan is all about politeness and helping out others.

After the bath we hung out here for a while. It was fun talking to other travelers!

After the bath we hung out here for a while. It was fun talking to other travelers!

There were so many types of baths I did not know what to do! Luckily other people were on the trip with us who could tell us which baths to go in. We first went into the hottest one. It was enormous! It felt like a swimming pool. Don’t swim around though–it is not courteous to others and Japan appreciates courteous people. There were so many other baths, but somehow I managed to try them all. There were individual baths that made me feel like a bowl of soup and an ice cold one. However, the Onsen is not just for bathing, it is also for socializing. It may seem odd at first, but Japanese are more open in the baths whereas usually they are more quiet and reserved. It was fun talking to the Japanese, and I made quite a few friends in the bath. It was so much fun in the bath that it made me wish that we had Onsen in the U.S. Obviously I couldn’t take pictures in the bath, but trust me when I say it was a sight to behold.

A fellow student enjoying the massage chair after the bath. It was wonderful and felt like heaven!

A fellow student enjoying the massage chair after the bath. It was wonderful and felt like heaven!

The Onsen was an awesome experience. It was relaxing and it gave me a chance to talk to strangers in Japan, which you rarely have a chance to do unless you approach them. Here, they approached me and I made some friends with people I would never have met unless I went. If you ever find yourself near an Onsen, go. I guarantee you it will be worth it for the amount of contact you get with Japanese people. Just make sure you follow the rules and be respectful of others.

The Little Things

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A month might seem long or short depending on how you’ve spent your time, but for this TUJ student (who’s here for an academic year), this first September flew by!! There’s a lot to be excited about and it can be kind of overwhelming to try and absorb all the new things that are happening around you. I found myself conflicted with wanting to immediately adopt some of the Japanese trends, but also extremely confused by all of its lavishness (in that everything seems to be taken care of with such thought)!!

Without knowing it, Japan has already changed me (it’s already stretched my attitudes so much, as seen in my two previous melodramatic posts). But externally, little parts of my life have changed so much. There is such a specific lifestyle required to survive here. The general quality of life is just so different from America (speaking as someone who’s only lived in Southern California and Boston), but the only way I can explain it is bit-by-bit. As a big picture, Japan is so impossibly scattered and beautiful that I have to divide it up into little pieces to feel like I’m properly explaining it!

As an independent housing student, I’m living with my grandmother about forty minutes away from campus. She wasn’t exactly equipped to house a grandchild in her little apartment, so we’ve had to make do with things we’ve found around the house–one of them being a fold-out mattress (she explains this to me as being closer to her because she had to do this in her younger days, too). It only takes a couple minutes to completely set up and pack up my bed, but the extra effort in making my bed definitely makes me more appreciative of and efficient with the time I have in the morning.

And with the rain constantly coming to get us any second, I’ve had to upgrade my measly Californian tools: a new Uniqlo (pocketable!!! which is so cool!!!) parka and an emergency travel umbrella (in the case the rain makes another sneak attack this week). But on the other hand, we also have to be prepared for heat! So I’ve started to carry around a towel-like handkerchief to absorb sweat from the body heat from the train and a little fan (only one of many that was handed out in the streets of Japan).

Just in case, I also carry around a “point-and-speak” Japanese translation book if I ever need to use some more advanced vocabulary (so far, I’ve only got very basic phrases). Apparently, this also makes Japanese locals feel better because there’s a point of reference in their conversation with a stranger. The little candy boxes are also good sources of energy when you’ve been walking around all day and losing energy! There are always cool new flavors at the train station vendors (like red bean and almond caramel)!

Apart from my new list of room/backpack essentials, there are moments throughout the day that make me surprised how differently Japanese people are living. For example, on my way home from the train station, I saw an elementary student walking with his mom with A CAGE OF BUGS IN HIS HAND. I couldn’t tell where all the concentrated noise was coming from at first, but when I saw where it was coming from, I was in awe. No kid in California would have gone out to do that for fun (none that I’ve seen at least). And this is all just from a month of being in Japan! I can’t wait to see what else there is to find out, once the holidays roll around!

TUJ Sports Night!!!!!

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One of the fantastic things about being a part of TUJ is the Office of Student Services! They plan all of these wonderful events (which I highly recommend attending) and one of the events occurred on September 18th: Sports Night!

After gathering in Azabu Hall, we traversed over to the local high school to use their gym for the evening! While there were bonding games and competitions, we also had some free time after to play basketball or volleyball. I had a lot of fun meeting new people and participating in the goofy games!

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You need not only speed to dribble around your opponent, but also agility to temper the beast.

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What started off as a friendly game turned into a fierce competition!

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Almost everybody here had just met for the first time! This shot was taken only 5 minutes after we had just entered the gym!

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Two chill dudes tied together by a red string of fate…that or they’re just running a 3 -legged race!

What a happy looking group! Sports Night was so much fun!

What a happy looking group! Sports Night was so much fun!

The bonds formed by teamwork run deep. There's something about sweating for your team that draws people together.

The bonds formed by teamwork run deep. There’s something about sweating for your team that draws people together.

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Frog leaping!!!!

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Blue team is determined to get the gold!!

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It’s a close game on the volleyball court! Within the single digits!

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We provide only one kind of service here on the volleyball court: a serve that will come barreling down at the speed of sound!!!

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“If you ain’t first, you’re last.” -Ricky Bobby, Taladega Nights

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Did he sink it? Did he miss? If you had been at Sports Night, then you would’ve known!

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With the most accumulated points over the various competitions, Red Team came out on top! Congratulations!

Temples, Shrines, and Festivals! Oh My!

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I’ve always been a fan of architecture and history. So when I was near the Meiji shrine, I wanted to visit. When I arrived at the gate to the temple I noticed people bow before entering, so I did the same to show respect. Luckily, there was a Japanese student with us who explained to us that the reason for all these rituals and customs before entering the shrine is simple. It is a sacred place for Japanese people–although I could tell that just by the name. Emperor Meiji helped modernize the country so rapidly that in less than 40 years time, Japan would crush the Russian Navy at Tsushima and win a hard earned victory at Port Arthur essentially defeating the Russians. It was the first time in a long time that an Asian country had defeated a European country. Japan cannot decently mourn its military dead of the Second World War without bitter backlash from China, Korea, and the U.S. The bitterness about Japanese war crimes still lingers on in these countries as a result of controversial statements and denying or skirting around responsibility for these atrocities. Instead of going to the Yasakuni Shrine (the shrine that exonerates the 14 A-class war criminals and the Japanese military dead) some Japanese visit the Meiji Shrine instead.

The inner shrine at the Meiji Shrine. We were not allowed to set foot there, but it was quite amazing nonetheless.

The inner shrine at the Meiji Shrine. We were not allowed to set foot there, but it was quite amazing nonetheless. Apparently if you do a certain pattern of movements (bowing and clapping) and say a wish it will grant it. I did that, but I’m not telling you guys what I wished for. 

When I entered the temple grounds we had to wash both our hands and our mouths with water. It started to dawn on me just how important this place is to Japan. People were quiet and talked in hushed tones. The faces of the Japanese were somber. Everything denoted that this place deserves everyone’s utmost respect. As for the grounds, It was beautiful. The grounds were covered in beautiful green scenery. We walked around for quite a bit observing the architecture and the grounds. After a couple of hours we left the Meiji shrine and I walked away with more respect for the Japanese. Everyone from the oldest down to the youngest did not need to be told this place was sacred and they should keep it as such. It also made me kind of sad. Where I go to school (Gettysburg), tourists do not show they same kind of quiet respect to the grounds they stand on. If you don’t honor those who fought and struggled for the people of your nation in turbulent times, then why be a nation at all?

Here I am all smiles in front of the entrance to the temple. It was an amazing experience

Here I am all smiles in front of the entrance to the temple. It was an amazing experience.

When I arrived back in Koganei and started walking back towards my house, I heard music and drums. I followed the sound and I soon came across a small festival. Seeing as how I’d never been to a Japanese festival and I had heard so much about them, I decided to check it out. The food at the festival apparently is special. It’s similar to fair food in the fact that it’s mostly sold just at the festival (I might be wrong about this, but I have not seen the food anywhere else). It was a lot of fun watching people dance around the central tower. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I didn’t dance for fear of standing out too much. There was also calligraphy going on and people were writing things and posting them on a wall nearby. I assumed they were wished or dreams. I left after a couple hours and walked home in awe of what I witnessed that day.

The central tower of the festival. I don't know what it's called, but I assume it has a name.

The central tower of the festival. I don’t know what it’s called, but I assume it has a name.

Cool statue at festival.

Cool statue at festival.

Japanese temples and festivals are great places to go if you want to experience Japanese culture to the fullest. The temples are marvels of architecture and the festivals are just a lot of fun to go to. If you ever want to come to Japan to experience the culture, put these two things down on your “must do” list.

ようこそう!(youkosou!) A Warm Welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun!

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Hello all!

Whether you’re a prospective TUJ student, currently enrolled, or just found this site in your free time, I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having clicked that link!

This is my first photo blog, not to mention first blog ever, so I’m extremely excited and nervous about how this whole project will turn out, but for the most part I hope you will be able to learn just as much about Japan as I am about blogging (and for those of you who aren’t quite sure how much that is…let’s just say it’s a lot).

Firstly, the purpose of this blog is create an accurate account of what it’s like to be a study abroad student at Temple Japan. My perspective is a little different because I chose to do independent housing and have been to Japan twice before. The first time was as a student ambassador through the TOMODACHI program for 2 weeks and the second time was with a friend of mine when we decided to travel extensively throughout Japan for 6 weeks (42 days), so I felt confident enough to try independent housing.

If you are a prospective student, I can recommend with utmost sincerity that you DO NOT DO THIS!!!! Definitely go to the dorms. From my experience researching and going through the whole hassle of locking down an apartment, I’ve learned that it would have just been easier to sign up with the dorms and have everything there and prepared for you, ready to go. I arrived a whole week before the program even began, and I’m still working on getting chairs to sit down at my table with at a week into the program. Thus it would probably be best for those who were considering renting an apartment as an option to simply move into the Hiyoshi/Kitazono dorms (not to mention that they’re prices are unbeatable on the market). They come fully furnished, and all the amenities are right there for you. I will admit, my friends in the dorms do say that it is a bit of trek to get to class, so while the opportunity to be closer to school and time is lost on commuting, it more than makes up for the time lost attempting to get an apartment. Just as a reminder, this is for prospective students who are not originally from Japan and don’t really have a grasp on the system. So if you are from Japan and know exactly how to go about doing things, go bananas.

With this in mind, while I won’t be able to provide the experience of the typical TUJ student, I will be able to let everyone see the TUJ Study Abroad experience in a different light, and provide a new perspective on TUJ.

Ah, glad to get that out of the way! So now that we have a little background as to the perspective lens the photographer is looking through, I’m just going to delve into my equipment a little bit. For all of my photos, I will be working with a Canon T5i Rebel camera with a 18-135mm lens. Nothing too fancy, but it’ll do for the purpose of this blog. I was also going to be working with a GoPro Hero4, but alas it got damaged on my trip to Tahiti this summer, so I don’t know the exact time or date when I will receive it here in Japan after it’s recovery in the states. My poor baby T.T

So finally, here comes the actual gallery of my first couple of weeks in Japan!

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First day of orientation! Everybody seems nervous, but really they’re just thinking about how to destroy their competition… 😉 Make sure you don’t fall behind in classes!

First day of orientation just like any other school! Classic yet fantastic presentations by the Dean and Associate Dean as well as the rest of the faculty! They made great strides to make us feel welcome, giving an almost casual feel to the presentations allowing for dialogue among the students and faculty. Way to make the students feel welcome!

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Serai and a couple of brand new friends pose for an up close shot! When I asked how long they had known each other for, I was met with a laugh and a collective “10 minutes ago!”

Lunch provided by TUJ was a nice and familiar pizza lunch; something I hadn’t had in a couple days. Chain pizza is always good no matter what country you’re in!

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Chris showing off his temple pride! Which does he look better with: his blue t-shirt, or in cherry and white? You decide!

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If you’ve never been to Shinjuku, chances are you will pass through should you visit Tokyo. A bustling hub, Shinjuku maintains one of the largest train stations in the city, providing transfers to all sectors of the city. Whether its shopping, photo ops, or a filling meal that you’re looking for, Shinjuku has it all. My recommendation: get off of the big streets and into one of the side stalls or izakaya’s (traditional Japanese dining establishments).

 

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Terrell Nowlin: Sophomore at TUJ Major: Finance Aspirations: To build his successful empire starting as an entrepreneur

One of the main reasons I came to Japan was because my friend Terrell (whom I had met back at Main Campus) was going to be attending TUJ at the same time as me. We became good friends back on the mainland, and felt it was time to take over Japan! As you can see, he was very excited to finally find Azabu hall (I thought we were going to get lost…)

 

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Terrell and I navigating the maze that comprises the Tokyo Metro/JR system

 

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What better way to announce your arrival into Akihabara than to strike a power pose?

 

Get used to seeing Terrell, because he’s going to be in a lot of my pictures this fall. At least his mug isn’t too bad…. just kidding! Hahahahah! We had to go to Akihabara because I was in need of a router. There’s not many photos right now of it because it was just an errand run, but from the small amount of time we spent there and the atmosphere, I get the feeling we’ll be returning to the capital of anime very soon…

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During the Super Yosakoi festival, dancers perform on stages (depicted) or by parading through the streets!

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Tokyo in one word: crowded Tokyo Festivals in one word: GIANTPARTYBONANZA!!!!!! 🙂

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Focusing intently on the next move, all of the dancers must have supreme concentration and superb memory to remember all of the steps of the parade dance, lest they wish to trip up their comrade coming towards them from behind!

While we did try to attend the picnic set up by Temple, instead we got lost in Yoyogi park. Luckily, there was a festival nearby and we immersed ourselves in Yakitori from the stalls and enjoyed watching traditional dancing. We later found out that what we had witnessed was the Super Yosakoi, a giant festival endorsing the traditional Yosakoi dance featuring about 100 different teams of dancers each year. Highly recommend attending if you want to get into the festival scene within your first couple weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Moshi moshi? How can I help you?”

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Green spaces are like little Eden’s in the cityscape, providing hardworking Japanese business people to get away from the daily toils of life.

The rest of the week comprised of gathering a cell phone and visiting numerous little parks in the Minato area. More on the cell phone later, but as a teaser, I’ll leave this photo of a REAL LIFE ASSISTING ROBOT right here for you. And if that’s not cool enough for you to come back next week, then I don’t know what is. I mean, I know this isn’t Optimus Prime, but still…

 

Till next time,

Michael V Kent

Lost in Translation

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It’s typhoon season here in Japan, so for the past three days the clouds have been heavy. No longer quite as hot as earlier summer rains, but it doesn’t make the country any less beautiful.

Clouds gathering during a nighttime walk along Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park.

Personally, I love the rain so much and the way it sounds (even thunder!!) and how it makes the streets look like oil and even little droplets that miss my umbrella and land facefirst into mine. I never hate it. But I do like it the least when I’m not prepared for it — like if someone brings home pizza when you’re full (Japanese pizza is HEAVENLY in their cheese-to-tomato ratio and masterful handling of crispy thin crusts; you definitely need to try it when you’re here, but again, I digress). Anyway, I fell asleep too deeply on the train and missed my stop. Just by one, and luckily one that was close to my previous stop, so I didn’t think it was too bad if I could just walk over to a nearby bus station. I’d brought an umbrella and enjoyed walking in Japan since there’s so much more greenery around.

Little did I know how gravely I underestimated a Japanese rainstorm. The clouds made the night only dimly lit, which wasn’t so convenient because I was under an unfamiliar industrial bridge that was blocking me from any recognition of my surroundings. Even if I stepped really carefully, my entire foot would be drenched from sloshy puddles. And after a while, my umbrella just started drooping under the weight of all that water, starting one of the saddest walks home of my life.

I kept thinking, “I can take this, I like the rain, I’m fine,” but being lost, cold, and wet really pushed my limits (even with rain) and I called over a taxi in my desperation to get home. The driver yelled, “Daijobu?! (Are you okay?!)”  and I yelled back, “Hai!! (Yes!!)” I got into the car and tried to tell him my address, but I only know it in the English pronunciation so we spent several minutes trying to figure out where it was I wanted to go. Suddenly, I had to make use of any Japanese that I’d learned over the past couple weeks.

Because I’m studying to be a writer, language is supposed to be one of my most important tools. The more I learn about English, the more I cling to it. But here, I have to completely forego everything I know (I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m hesitant to do that). When learning a new phrase, I would think “What’s the English translation for that?” and assign an English meaning to a Japanese phrase. This was kind of problematic because the way I viewed Japanese was only in relation to English. But the experience changed how I viewed learning in that I realized there’s nothing embarrassing about trying.

Normally, the situation with the taxi driver would’ve given me way too much anxiety, but I felt relatively calm. I straight up told him that I didn’t speak Japanese, but tried to pronounce the words correctly anyway. In my desperation to get home, embarrassment flew out the window. My conversation (albeit a very broken one) was adequate enough for me to get home safely, so I’d say that’s a pretty successful start! Only afterwards did I realize that without knowing it, I’d picked up many more Japanese phrases and words than I’d ever thought. This is when I realized I have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable. While I’m still struggling to completely dive into the Japanese language, these days I now find myself having a more Japan-centric mindset. I think about what the words and phrases mean to the Japanese, and they start to separate themselves from English-translated words. No more embarrassment! I just have to go for it! I already look back at this memory as a fond one (and even kind of funny in the way a taxi driver, a stranger, cried over my rain troubles with me).

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.

And We’ll Never Be Royals

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This weekend I decided to go to the Japanese Imperial Palace. I was very interested in the place when I first came to Japan, despite my usual disinterest in the life of royals. The reason I was so interested was because I had heard at one point in the 1980’s, some economists valued its real estate higher than all of the Californian real estate at the time (Oddly enough, the Economist who gave this number has no idea where it came from). I was never into following the British royal family and I never understood why some Americans did. I rarely followed any royal families anywhere mostly because I really didn’t understand it. However, this week through some reading, a visit to the Imperial Palace gardens, and research, it led me to have major sympathy for the Japanese royal family.

The Palace from Outside the gates

The Imperial Palace from Outside the gates.

When I was flipping through a textbook for one of my classes (Professor Kingston’s Book, Contemporary Japan), I noticed a section on the Japanese Royal family. Seeing as how I’ve heard nothing about them except the Emperor’s name, I decided to read the section. What followed was a revelation. The royal family has quite a hard time. For example, the Japanese media attacked a Japanese princess to the point where she had a mental breakdown. Her husband the Crown Prince apparently tried to shield her from this to no avail. The fact that he had to propose to her 3 times (She didn’t say no because she didn’t love him apparently. It was also because she had a promising career in the Foreign Ministry.), tells one that life in the Imperial Court is difficult. If I were in her shoes, I would say yes a million times over. The stress of court life and constant media coverage was obviously well known to her.

The palace grounds are enormous. When my friend and I entered, we had to get a ticket to prove we were “guests” of the royal family. My buddy and I had a hard time finding our way around and getting to places. It was beautiful though. There were layers of stone that resembled walls and there were layers upon layers of them. I assume they were layers of walls to protect the royal family. We climbed to one of the highest points on the palace grounds which was the base of an old castle. We could see for miles. It was surreal that here we were on the base of an 800 year old castle and there were skyscrapers all around us. It was a wonderful blend of traditional and modern. We looked around the palace gardens for a bit and then left excited to tell others to go to the palace. At the same time, however, it did demonstrate how isolated the royal family is. Despite being on the palace grounds and walking all over, we never came close to the family’s quarters.

Fish statue right inside the palace grounds.

Statue right inside the palace grounds.

According to Professor Kingston’s book, The IHA, or Imperial Household Agency controls their budget and therefore their lives. They can’t go anywhere or do anything without permission first. They have to be extremely thrifty (the emperor drives a 1994 model car) and are even forced to be aloof. They don’t want to be aloof. For example, in the horrific aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake they quietly visited victims in normal clothes and stayed with them for quite sometime. Other Japanese bigwigs and politicians made a big show coming to visit victims and left soon after they arrived. The fact that members of the royal family quietly did this and for an extended period of time, speaks volumes about their character. The Emperor himself has made many attempts to reconcile with Korea. Japanese politicians however, keep screwing it up by making controversial statements by not mentioning comfort women or Japan’s war crimes. Some are just outright denying his claims. I could not even begin to imagine how frustrating this must be for him. In short, the Japanese royal family is made into a soap opera by media attacks and political strife. They are good, honest people from what I have read and they genuinely care about the Japanese people. The aftermath of the 3/11 destruction demonstrates that. If that isn’t benevolent ruling, I don’t know what is.

A cool picture. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.

A cool picture from inside the Palace grounds. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.

Akihabara, Consumerism and The West’s fascination with Japanese Culture.

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The famed filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, once criticized modern Japan for its rampant consumerism. I originally thought this was ironic coming from the man whose company is helped significantly by Disney, the epitome of rampant marketing and consumerism (apologies to Disney lovers everywhere). However, I can see why his views have quite a bit of merit now that I’ve been in Tokyo for a week. A week of living in the country and I’ve seen ads about everything from maid cafes to natural gas. It’s impossible to take a step in Tokyo without being bombarded with advertising. I’m not saying that consumer culture is bad; what I’m saying is that Tokyo is a capitalist’s dream. Perhaps the answer to Japan’s economic woes lies in its “Cool Japan” culture.

I found Colonel Sanders in Akihabara, it made me laugh pretty hard. Consumerism in Japan is fascinating.

I found Colonel Sanders in Akihabara, and it made me laugh pretty hard. Consumerism in Japan is fascinating.

This is especially true with Akihabara, the electronics and Otaku culture center of Tokyo. It is also the center of the “What the hell Japan” pictures you often see online. In case you aren’t familiar with Otaku culture, it’s not just loving Anime and Manga. Rather, it’s taking that interest to the point of obsession. “There are multiple versions of Otaku.” I was told by a fellow Japanese student, “If your whole life revolves around one interest to the point other people don’t understand it, that’s when you become an Otaku. There are Otaku for practically anything.” Many people in Japan or across the globe still don’t understand it. Otaku culture has slowly become integrated into Japanese culture and world culture as a whole to the point almost everyone reads manga on trains. Unfortunately, Otaku at first in Japan were not well received. The story of Otaku is actually quite tragic. Many were thought to be outlandish and were often the targets of bullies and harassment from classmates. The Japanese media helped little by fanning the flames. They told horror stories of what Otaku are and what they’ve supposedly done to other people.Teachers, parents, and especially bullies, ate it up and used it as and excuse to harass and bully these poor souls. This led to some Otaku becoming NEET’s (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and social hermits. It is understandable. The outside world rejected them, so they in turn reject the outside world. They desperately wanted human contact and therefore turned to other interests such as the digital world and the anime world. Soon these manga, anime and video game characters almost became surrogates for real human relationships because they felt as though they had no one else.

Similar to the famous

Similar to the famous “Maid Cafes” except these ones seem to have a much more “adult” feel. I stayed away from these places with good reason.

I enjoy the occasional Anime or Manga, but not very often. People still said I should go if I have even the slightest interest. I have a big interest in video games and I heard this is a fantastic place for fans of video games to come as well.  Being a fan of the bizarre and video games, I decided to check Akihabara out. Needless to say, I was not prepared. There were girls in Cosplay costumes (Cosplay comes from word “Costume Play” and it is when a person dresses up as a character from a TV Show, Anime, Manga, or Video Game. Some of the more creative ones make up characters of their own. The amount of hard work, time, and money put into it can be amazing.) handing out fliers promoting maid cafes, people who looked like they knew the place like the back of their hand, and people like me–people who saw something that intrigued or excited them and wanted to experience it. Akihabara was huge. Most buildings had 10 floors with multiple shops in the buildings selling the same thing. I did not know where to go at first. Finally I gave up and chose a store at random and decided to go inside. I was blasted with everything from anime, cards, fashion, video games, and even famous American movie figurines. Not only that, there were models of warplanes, tanks, and aircraft carriers. I finally understood what my classmate meant when he said, “There are Otaku for practically anything.” If you have even the slightest interest in video games, anime, manga, models, fashion, or would just like to see Otaku Culture first hand, I highly recommend going. It was an amazing experience.

This model

This model “Gundam” was huge! I was curious about how much it cost because of its sheer size. Needless to say, it’s out of my price range.

Some anime character. I don't think I was allowed to take pictures in here. Oops.

Some anime character. I don’t think I was allowed to take pictures in here. Oops. Well, what’s done is done.

I just found this model hysterical. A robot riding a robot horse. What will Japan think of next?

I found this model interesting. A robot riding a robot horse. What will Japan think of next?

I left Akihabara in a daze. There were a lot of weird things in Akihabara. Most were too inappropriate to post here. But it also gave me time to reflect. What is weird anyway? A Japanese person coming to America might find some of our traditions or actions weird. Every country has something that appears odd to the outside world. The culture might understand it, but the rest of the world may not.

It is hard to deny the impact of Otaku culture worldwide both in the birth of “Cool Japan,” and in the global economy. Make no mistake Anime, Manga, and Video games are big business. So it attracts investors for these publishing and animation companies to the point that Hollywood has begun to turn its head. Some American directors  have slowly begun adapting Anime into live action movies. Many kids in America and Europe who were born in the early to mid-1990’s grew up on watching Japanese Anime such as Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragon Ball-Z, Yu-gi-oh, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and Outlaw Star among many others. Their love (and mine) over the years has not died. There are even classes at some universities discussing the phenomenon. Some classes are teaching about one show, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and its views on religion, depression, and philosophy. The phenomenon is quite incredible when one looks at it closely. When American middle aged men and women (such as my mother and father) look back, they remember nostalgic TV shows or Cartoons such as The Flinstones, The Honeymooners, Scooby Doo, I Love Lucy etc. When 20-odd year old individuals look back (albeit prematurely) they remember Pokemon and the other anime mentioned above. In fact, Pokemon still to this day is loved by college students worldwide to the point they are still buying the games that are sold by the millions. Nostalgia factor in general means more sales and these prematurely nostalgic young adults help the companies’ sales immensely. Could this love of “Cool Japan” help bring Japan out of its economic slump by using this Otaku and worldwide Consumerism of Japanese Anime, Music, Video Games, and Manga? Never say never.

As I left Akihabara, I began to think back to history because I am a history major and love to connect things to the past. I hypothesized that “Weird Japan” is a product of the past. The West’s fascination with ” the Orient” or what is “bizarre” in their eyes has been around for hundreds of years. Ever since Japan was first visited by European explorers arrived in 1543, the West’s fascination with Japan has not ceased. Japan’s Otaku culture and Akihabara help keep not only the West’s, but the world’s fascination of “Exotic” Japan alive and well.

Sunny Side Up

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Anybody would be crazy to even think about rejecting an opportunity to study abroad. You get to live in the hub of Japan! Meet completely different people from you! Observe (and eventually cherish) a part of the world that is so unique and colorful that it’s impossible to even say no to at least a little peek—in fact, this could very well be the highlight of your college years. You are so lucky to be studying abroad. And now you’ve been given the chance, there is nothing holding you back. No reason to say no.

But… somehow it crossed my mind:

Of course, I am so grateful for the opportunity. Almost overwhelmingly thankful. With all this gratitude comes an urge to repress all worries and anxieties. But boiling water can’t be held down in a pot that’s already filled to the brim, and suddenly the floodgates opened to let in the rush of questions I’ve had since my acceptance letter:

What will happen to my friends and family while I’m gone? What kind of new friends will I make? Will the friendships I make here last even after we separate? I have millions of questions about both the experiences gained in Japan and the experiences missed at home, but the thought that rings loudest is this one: What if people move so far on with their lives that I’m left behind?

In a sense, your life is on pause while you’re studying abroad. You’re growing as an individual (which is great!!), but the life left back at home will be waiting for the person who left, not the person you became. You’ll have to readjust to the changes that happened in the time you were gone.

Now this all sounds sad and grey, but something that helped me come to terms with all this doubt was not actually fixing the problem itself—it was fixing how I feel about the problem. I decided to look at this trip as a traveler would. An expedition! There are some people who enjoy exploring simply for a sense of self-satisfaction, but there are also those who, more so than travel, love to share what has happened to them, where they’ve been, who they’ve seen. And through this blog, I hope to become that person!

The people at home may not be the people I remember, but I’ll have new things to share with them—and they, in turn, will have new things to share with me! On my first days here, I realized this will also work exactly the other way around, too. I’ve shared a lot of old experiences with new friends, but to them, these experiences are fresh! Being alone in a completely new environment takes a lot on your part, but it gives you even more to share with friends—old and new. In a way, I have to get to know my friends from home again. But writing my thoughts out on this blog can really help me process my experiences here, and get to share an even more vivid story when I go back home!

I’m really scared of heights, but I love the adrenaline and amazing sights that come with it. I’m also really scared of animals, but I find them fascinating and hard not to love (except spiders… though I still admit they are fascinating/terrifying, but I digress). If this pattern follows, even if I am absolutely terrified of nearly all things new, I think it will be impossible to not look back on this year fondly. So… here’s to 2015-2016 in Japan!

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Kiyose Sunflower Festival in Kiyose. Went the wrong way twice, but still somehow made it into the fields!!! And the flowers were endless!!! Just another reminder to have an optimistic and sunny outlook.