Monthly Archives: October 2015

7/11’s in Japan: The Pinnacle of Convenience


If you ask anyone who has ever been to Japan or stayed in Japan for an extended period of time and ask them about convenience stores in Japan, they will all give rave reviews of convenience stores. Convenience in Japan is quite incredible and the 7/11’s are the pinnacle of convenience. To give you an idea of how convenient Japan is, In my local neighborhood there are three convenience stores, my house, a bookstore, three bars, many restaurants, and several vending machines. This is just on the walk to my house alone. There are about five on my walk to school. Every place in Tokyo has its own different kind of bars, restaurants etc, and they are unique, but everything you could ever want is in your local neighborhood in Tokyo. The convenience stores in Japan are quite different from the ones in the West.

Convenience Stores like this one are all over Japan. It's quite a sight.

Convenience Stores like this one are all over Japan. It’s quite a sight.

For example, the convenience stores often carry many different kinds of food items, not just junk food. In theory you could do your grocery shopping in here. Some stores have fruits, vegetables, and meats right there in the store (on a side note, the pears and other fruits in Japan are legendary and taste much better than the ones in the U.S., seriously, they are so crispy and sweet it’s like eating candy). They have so many varieties of teas, sodas, alcohol, and water brands it’s easy to be intimidated if you are thirsty and just want a simple drink. If you want a quick lunch you are in luck. The meal options are often very varied. There are breads (so many kinds and fillings, it’s hard to tell what they are half of the time if you don’t read Japanese), sandwiches, onigiri (Japanese rice balls), curries, meat and rice bowls, meats, noodles, ramen among many other meal options. Some of the stuff looks so fancy and so good that it’s often hard to decide, at least for me. Almost all of the time it is guaranteed delicious with whatever you get it.

Service is often a lot friendlier, as well. Japanese courtesy plays a huge role here and store attendants are often very helpful if you can’t find something. The stores themselves are very neat and organized when compared with convenience stores in the West, in my experience. The stores in the west are not typically known for being the cleanest or most neat either. In Japan, store owners take great care and pride with cleanliness and it’s common to see an attendant cleaning just a small speck off the floor just because it bothers them that a part of the store is dirty.

Convenience in Japan is quite amazing, yet it also has led to some far reaching issues. Since many people want to come to Tokyo for not only its convenience, but for jobs, it leads to a depopulation of the countryside, which is fast becoming an issue in Japan. Perhaps convenience is not as good as we might think. The Japanese country side is quickly depleting in size and vegetation is noticeably growing over some of the older houses and abandoned houses are not hard to find in rural Japan. It also leads to the danger that too large of a concentration of the population is extremely vulnerable in a natural disaster. In Japan’s case, natural disasters come all too frequently. Having millions of people in a small area that is difficult to evacuate isn’t a good plan. This also affects food production in Japan. Farmer’s children sometimes don’t want to become farmers and their parent’s sometimes don’t want them too either. They go off to the city for college, high school, and work only returning for visits. This leads to a smaller tax base and less revenue for rural Japan. However it is not an unsolvable problem. If rural Japan makes changes and makes it more accessible to foreign visitors, there may be a chance they people will come back to the country side (trust me when I say if you don’t speak Japanese, it is next to impossible to get directions or help). Rural Japan is gorgeous and has so much to offer from its scenic views, beautiful mountains and forests, to its people who are very friendly. It is my hope that some day rural Japan will make a come back.


Teaching English in Japan, A Possible Career Path?


I recently had the pleasure of teaching English to a lot of Japanese High School students for two days at an “English Camp.” It was an incredible experience and it shed much insight into how the Japanese education system works. The students themselves are very enthusiastic learners and soaked up everything that was taught to them very effectively. I felt that at the end of the camp I had created a bond with a few of these students.

I arrived at the National Olympic Youth Center early. I was paranoid about being late so I left very early to ensure that I would not be late. It was a cold morning, but I was eager to teach these students English and to show others how well I could teach. We had a brief meeting before heading off to our first classes. My partner for teaching the first day classes was a fantastic guy (for the sake of confidentiality I will not mention my partner’s name) and I felt that we would make a great team. When we arrived into the classroom it was just like an American classroom. Students were chatting and were on their phones. They quickly became quiet as we entered the room and took their seats. I began to call out roll. I butchered many of the names and the students thought it was the funniest thing that I pronounced names in a strange way. I quickly became more relaxed and I took the joke in stride. Teaching the first class went better than I expected. The students were quiet and we had to help them open up. We could not point at them to make them answer questions because pointing is not looked upon well in Japan. We had to make sure we used more than one finger to point to a student and make sure they seemed like they knew the answer which was tough. As soon as we got it down the students were very responsive and showed great progress in learning English that period.

Outside of the classroom during the camp, students were enticed to speak to us through a prize motivation. Whoever could get enough stickers from us (We were given stickers to give to the students who had an English conversation with us) would get a prize. This worked surprisingly well. Students began chatting with us not only to get the stickers but also because they were curious about us. Many of them had not interacted with foreigners before so they were asking questions about us and constantly asking to take pictures with us. It was so much fun to talk to them, too. They always had something cool to ask or interesting to say. The students were so friendly and so respectful that it surprised me that a high-schooler could be like that (when I was in high school, I would have thought the camp was lame because we were forced to go). They seemed like they were having a great time and you could see it in their faces.

By then end of the camp, I felt as though I had created a lifetime memory with the students. It was so much fun to teach them and to see them grow and learn. Who knows, this might lead to me possibly becoming an ESL Teacher. I’ve never considered it before, but now it seems like something to consider for a future career. All in all, there was no better way to spend that weekend.

The closing ceremonies for the camp. It was such a wonderful experience! We had almost 300 students!

The closing ceremonies for the camp. It was such a wonderful experience! We had almost 300 students!



…is what you would say to a sushi chef when telling him he’s got full control over your sushi for the night. In other words, “I’ll leave it to you.” If you bring up Japan to anybody in the states (possibly the world), chances are one of the first things they will think of is… SUSHI! And rightly so, considering it’s the birthplace of the original wrapped rice and fish. I can’t count how many of my friends have asked, “So have you had sushi yet?” It seems to be a very popular topic!

Thus far, I’ve only had the basics like salmon, tuna, etc., but there are tons of other fish that need to be tasted! There are countless sushi bars out there (and playful ones with conveyor belts disguised as Tokyo trains), but I decided to head to Asahi Sushi. This is a plate I got from Asahi Sushi:


This was one of their sampler dishes, with many different kinds of sushi. It’s not quite as traditional as other places may serve, but it has some classics and some modern takes! I’ll just identify them from top to bottom, left to right:

Katsuo (skipjack tuna): This is your standard tuna sushi. Normally, not served with anything on top, but dropping a little shoyu (what they call soy sauce here) makes the flavors really come out of both the fish, and the little veggies!
Baked scallop: You won’t need any shoyu for this piece, as the scallop usually comes with a little sauce of its own. It’s a little chewier, but comes apart more easily because of its texture.
Anago (saltwater eel): For newbie sushi-eaters, rest assured – this eel is cooked! It’s got quite a bit of bones, and even though they’re edible, they can be a little uncomfortable to chew. Still, this is probably going to be your sauciest sushi piece and super yummy regardless!

Shrimp: Another classic – a cooked shrimp on top of rice. Personally, I find the shrimp a little less flavorful after eating the other pieces, so if they provide any citrus fruits, I recommend eating it together with the ginger for a FLAVOR EXPLOSION!!
Tai (red sea bream): This was a highly prized fish during the Edo period. Tastes very clean and very smooth!
Ikura (salmon roe): Unfortunately, this is one that I just cannot bring myself to try. If you’ve had the little poppers in bubble tea, I’ve heard the texture is quite similar – when you bite it, it pops with liquids from inside.
Giant kelp: Honestly I can’t remember if there was fish in there, but the kelp is not as slimy as you would imagine. It’s much more dense in texture and retains a lot of flavor from sauces!

Otoro (tuna): THIS WAS MY FAVORITE PIECE OF SUSHI. Apparently, this is the fattiest cut of the tuna so it’s the oiliest, but also the most savory. It is SO soft and smooth and easy in flavor – it doesn’t even need any shoyu! Honestly, this sushi changed my life.
Uni (sea urchin) on squid: Uni is usually served alone, but with the squid the ocean-y flavor is balanced out.
Akame (tuna): Since my sushi palette is still pretty undeveloped, this honestly tasted very similar to the katsuo. It was just a little thicker and heavier cut.

On the corner of the plate is a little mound of pieces of ginger. A lot of people think that they serve this with sushi just to get rid of the fishy flavor in your mouth, but they actually serve them together because ginger has a quality that destroys any possible bacteria in the fish! (Not that there would be any dirty fish – the Japanese are super thorough in their customer service and take great care to make sure the customer is satisfied!)


TUJ Traditional Japanese Magic Show


When I first heard about the Traditional Japanese Magic Show being offered at TUJ, I had no clue what to expect. As I am fairly new to the magic scene, I wasn’t quite sure how it would differ from magic tricks that I’d seen in America. Most of them have to deal with illusions and tricking the audience into believing something that seems impossible.

But Rie, one of the Activities & Events coordinators (side note: and has the coolest hair ever! If you ever come to TUJ, you should totally meet her and have a chat; she is so friendly and has made my TUJ experience all the better!), was explaining to me that this kind of magic was called “Wazuma.” It’s a type of traditional Japanese magic that has been handed down from the Edo-period (1615-1868). One of the flyers summed up its history pretty well:

The history of ‘magic’ in Japan dates back to the Nara period (710-794). However, there was no term for magic at that time, and it was passed down to its performers by word of mouth. During the Edo period (1615-1868), magic was called “Tezuma” or “Shinadama” and was extremely popular. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), foreign magic was brought to Japan, which people started calling “Yozuma.” In order to differentiate the types of magic, people started calling the Japanese magic “Wazuma.” The more foreign culture was brought to Japan, the more “Wazuma” decreased in popularity. Although “Wazuma” was selected as an intangible cultural heritage by the Japanese government in May 1997, the tradition of “Wazuma” is dying out.

Still, even with all this context, I didn’t really know what I should be expecting. On the day of, Tomizawa Yugen came to Mita Hall and gave us a great performance, despite feeling a little under the weather! I’m not allowed to take pictures during the performance (plus I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprises should any of you might possibly want to attend in the future), but he was really humorous and I could tell he was having a lot of fun. So, I don’t have any photos, except for the promotional ones from the flyer:



…and Rie, introducing the performance with a little background on Mr. Tomizawa and “Wazuma.”


There was a Q&A afterwards, and one of the questions was: “What makes ‘Wazuma’ unique?” Mr. Tomizawa had to think about it a little bit and said it’s more about the essence of the magic. American magicians (especially the ones in Las Vegas, he said) were always very showy and the tricks are mainly about flamboyance. But Japanese “Wazuma” is a little more nuanced in its movement. He explained that it can be described with the essence of “wabi-sabi,” which has to do with more delicacy, subtlety, and intimacy.

I’m not sure I completely understand yet, but I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple days, and I think that is actually quite accurate. When I remember his performance, it had to do a lot with little things and little surprises that put smiles on people’s faces… so, nothing that would blow our minds or anything! And then suddenly scenes of people in the Edo period enjoying the same things made me feel somehow… nostalgic? Not that “Wazuma” was really a part of my childhood, but it definitely put things into perspective to think that I was enjoying the same things that people from the Edo period were!

Anyway, it was such a privilege to see Mr. Tomizawa perform his magic at TUJ!


Old Vs. New: Adventures in the Edo Open Air Museum and Harajuku


One of the coolest things about living in Tokyo is that you can see the contrast between the older side of Tokyo and the newer, trendier side of Tokyo. In some places in Tokyo one can see that contrast side by side. My weekend was full of these contrasts. This weekend I decided to go to the Edo Open Air Architecture Museum to see what some of the houses in Japan would have looked like during the Edo period and Harajuku, to see trendsetting Japanese fashion.

The Edo Open Air Architecture Museum. This is only a small part of it. It was enormous!

The Edo Open Air Architecture Museum. This is only a small part of it. It was enormous!

When I went to the museum and went inside of these houses it surprised me that even in times when Japan was copying Western ideas and technology, like in the Meiji period, everything they did or made had a distinct Japanese flair about it. There were still spaces to take off your shoes in the houses and the insulation was limited, just like in modern day Japanese houses. The architecture itself was inspired by western architecture, but still had a uniquely Japanese flair with some buildings looking like the two types of architecture had been mushed together. It was also powerful to see a shrine that was one of the last of its kind. The area surrounding the shrine was gorgeous and peaceful, as well as eerily quiet. The shrine was not very big, but it was beautiful with its wonderful coloring, scarlet red, gold, and black. Most of the shrines like the one described previously were destroyed by air raids in the Second World War. It was hard not to think of what this place meant to the Japanese as many looked upon it reverently.

The sign at the beginning of one of the busiest streets in Harajuku

The sign at the beginning of one of the busiest streets in Harajuku

After a quick stop for lunch with a friend, we decided to go to Harajuku, a place know for its trendsetting fashion and local girls with unique fashion sense known as “Harajuku Girls.” Walking down the street one could see this was a tourist place. There were many foreigners like myself who were interested in the unique fashion such as “Gothic Lolita” clothes and accessories. There were plenty of those girls around the street. What interested me wasn’t the girls wearing the clothes and the strangeness of it all, but the clothes themselves. Many of the shops had clothes that were custom made and exclusive to Harajuku, meaning the price tag was crazy expensive. But I had to admire the amount of detail and dedication that went into making the clothes–some of them were made by the people managing the store. Harajuku isn’t just known for its fashion trends, however. It is also known for its crepes. Some of the crepes at the stores would make anyone salivate. They had any type of flavor one could possibly imagine and they were just as delicious as they looked.

I came back home from those two places with an interesting perspective on Japanese culture. The Japanese may adopt other culture’s technology, food, clothes, mannerisms, and even architecture, but they will always find a unique way to make it distinctly Japanese. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Edo Open Air Museum and in Harajuku.


Firelit Noh


In Japan, Zōjō-ji Temple is one of the temples from the Edo period that are still standing (if you’ve taken any Japanese history class, then you’ll know that the Edo period was plagued by fires–all their buildings were made out of wood, so one little flame was all it took!). Japan has gone through a lot of war, but Zōjō-ji Temple was still pretty magnificent! Especially standing next to modern architecture, like the Tokyo Tower.

Anyway, this past weekend Zōjō-ji Temple was hosting an event called “Firelit Noh.” I wanted to visit, as it was described to be one of the temple’s most bustling events of the year. They turn off the lights at the temple (though the area is still pretty well-lit because of its surrounding street lamps and, of course, the looming Tokyo Tower) and the monks put on a performance of an Edo ritual. If it’s any indication, by the time I arrived to the temple, most of the tickets for the Edo performance were already sold out!

The only tickets that were left were $40 seats near the back, and $40 is not a huge amount–but it was one that this broke college student could not afford… I was pretty bummed out, honestly, since I could hear the ancient instruments. Everyone was so quiet! And I wanted to be a part of that quietness! So I left the temple after feeling like I’d at least absorbed some of the ancient-ness of the buildings. But walking around the temple, I found a small area on the sidewalk where I could see a sliver of the performance. It was very far, but at least I could see what was going on!

The monks, altogether, lit some torches and walked ceremoniously down to a fire pit, where they held up their torches together. If anyone’s played that meditation game on the WiiFit, this environment felt exactly like that. I was almost starting to get comfortable standing and watching, when a complete stranger walked up to me and offered her extra ticket to come inside the temple!!! I was so surprised and taken aback–especially since I don’t think Japanese people are usually so outgoing like her–but explained that I didn’t have enough money to pay her back for the ticket. “Ah, money is no problem,” she said to me. Her act of kindness seriously dumbfounded me (and made me think that I should be more giving–how fitting that my personal revelation happened at a temple!). How can someone be so generous?! So after this, I got to go inside the temple and watch the Edo performance up close (unfortunately, no pictures because the atmosphere was just too intense)!!

On a creepier note, I found this garden at the temple’s cemetery, where rows of stone statues represent the unborn children of Japan. Occasionally stones are piled by the statue, which are meant to shorten the child’s suffering on their way to the afterlife.

All in all, a very eye-opening and blessing experience!


Mt. Takao/Mt. Jimba – A Mountain Adventure


Adventurer’s Log   -Oct. 8th-

I have embarked on journey seeking something other than the endless buildings that comprise Tokyo. Today, I have found a small patch of wilderness that those of the area call “Mount Takao.” A meager 45 minute train ride from Shibuya, I was shocked by how popular this particular mountain was. I recall seeing 2 folks dressed up in hiking gear at Shibuya station and thinking to myself, “they’re probably going to the same place as I am.” The first 2 were joined by another 2, and then more and more kept appearing with each station we passed in our small train car. Eventually, it became so that I had to struggle to get through all of the hikers blocking the doors to the platform because so many had congregated on that day.

After my little warm-up of worming my way through the crowd, I saw the sign that finally notified me that I had arrived. In big kanji characters, the sign made no effort to be discreet and letting all who had arrived that they had indeed arrived at Mt. Takao. At the base was a lovely cable car, but my hiker spirit told me to take the trail, to which I was not disappointed. The path led up a creek with little blocks in place that you could step on so that your footwear wouldn’t get soaked. The summit of Mt. Takao (3km from the base) was lovely and gave a great view of Mt. Fuji, but I wanted something a little more intense, so I undertook the voyage (another 16km) to the next mountain: Mt. Jimba.

Along the way, there were several other “summits,” which were more-or-less small rest stops that had amenities and benches. It was between these that I recognized a certain hiker that I happened to be hiking behind for most of the hike. About halfway to Mt. Jimba, I introduced myself, and we struck up a passionate conversation in our mix of broken Japanese and English about our hiking experiences. Turns out my new-found friend, Ogihara-san, had done this particular hike several times before: 27 times to be exact. I was astonished by his resilience and endurance to be able to do this long hike so many times! When I mentioned my age, he was also surprised because he had never met anyone as young as me undertake this hike, and he was happy to take a photo with me at the summit (depicted below). It was great to make a new friend and enjoy the outdoors so close to Tokyo; you never know what you’ll run into if you just get out there!

Mount Takao-Station Sign-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Big letters, difficult to miss

Mount Takao-Butterfly-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Nature, it’s so beautiful

Mount Takao-Trail Head-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

The cable car station; so quaint

Mount Takao-Jizo-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Just some Jizo statues on the side of the trail

Mount Takao-Kanto Plain-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

What a view of the Kanto plain

Mount Takao-Onigiri Set-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

A light lunch to keep the legs pumping

Mount Takao-Rest spot-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

One of the “summits” for the weary traveler

Mount Takao-Valley-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Mountains, valleys, fresh air; what more can you ask for?

Mount Takao-Closeup summit approach-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Approaching Mt. Jimba summit, the summit-house looks so inviting!!

Mount Takao-Photo at the Summit-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

A picture of Ogihara-san and I at the summit! 857m above sea level, 19km from the station!

Mount Takao-Goat Statue-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Is it a goat? Is it a ram? Or is it a Giraffe? Most importantly, how did they get it all the way up here???

Mount Takao-Sunset-Michael Kent-TUJ-FL15

Long days and lovely sunsets are what I live for…


Paintball/Onsen trip to Chiba!!!


Paintball? Onsen? Count me in!!!

TUJ OSS laid out a great activity for us this time! Just a short drive over to Chiba, and we were lighting each other up on the largest field in Japan! It was great because both beginners and those who had experience before were on dispersed evenly, so everyone could enjoy a fairly even fight. Afterwards, our group headed over to the Healing Villa Onsen for a relaxing bath to melt away the aches and pains from all the welts we received on the field. All in all, it was a fantastic experience!


Gear up! We’re going paintballing!


For those unfamiliar with paintballing, when you get shot or run out of ammunition, you raise your arm and walk off the field. Michael Hanks (shown) never got shot, but walks off with pride and without bullets.


Momoka and her friends pose for a picture after a game.

All I told them was:

All I told them was: “Look cool”. Nailed it.


Use your terrain to your advantage! You can’t get shot if you aren’t seen!


Team No-Arm-Bands is ready to take on Team Arm-Bands! Good luck!


Walking off can be a relief: you don’t have to be shot at anymore!!!


Alphonse is the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!


Hayate peeks out from cover like a pro. The strategy is to keep your body hidden while being able to see the most!


Greg posts up to surprise any unwary players!


When off the field, we keep our guns pointed down for safety. Peace signs on the other hand are encouraged to be kept up at all times!


The classic group shot!


There are varying levels of excitement among the group for those who are entering an Onsen/public bath for the first time!

These are the truly brave souls. Falling in the mud and getting dirty: no problem. Getting hit by paintballs and developing bruises: no sweat. Sticking your feet into tubs of small fish to eat the dead skin off: I think I'll pass.

These are the truly brave souls. Falling in the mud and getting dirty: no problem. Getting hit by paintballs and developing bruises: no sweat. Sticking your feet into tubs of small fish to eat the dead skin off: I think I’ll pass.


I wasn’t kidding about the small fish. So gross!




This past Sunday night, my grandma and I were just eating dinner. We decided to open the shades to ventilate the living room, but instead we were met with a collective gasp! Out in the sky was a huge moon—and a red one at that. I’d only seen this kind of moon on the covers of vampire/werewolf/supernatural creature novels (sorry, I am neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob), but to see it in person was breathtaking!

Super Blood Moon next to the Skytree

Of course, I’d already seen pictures of this natural wonder on my Facebook newsfeed with the hashtag #SuperBloodMoon (unfortunately, where I get most of my news), but didn’t think I would get to be seeing it all the way over here in Tokyo. Massachusetts and Japan are separated by a thirteen-hour time difference, and California and Japan are separated by a sixteen-hour one. Now I don’t completely understand the actual logistics of how long an eclipse should last (I thought it was only a few minutes…?), but I definitely didn’t think it would travel halfway across the world and still be eclipsed!!

This was all beautiful, but it got me thinking about the impact of the time difference for international students living in Japan. As we get further and further into college, it becomes harder and harder to maintain contact with our friends from other countries. To begin with, preparing ourselves to become actual functioning adults in the real working world gives us so many more responsibilities—so we have less downtime for the things outside of our schedule. Then, there’s room for technical difficulty like Wi-fi connection and the ability to be multi-tasking while you’re in a video conference.

All these things made me think that time difference would be a huge obstacle and that it would be very crippling to my communication, especially because I’m not that good at keeping in touch long-distance. But being away from friends at home has strengthened some of my relationships, rather than weakened them. I guess the age-old “absence makes the heart grow fonder” idiom is pretty true!

Instead of literally instant messaging, I’m able to drop messages here and there throughout the day until the other person reads it. Usually, it’ll be in their morning while it’s nighttime over here–and this is surprisingly effective, as one of us is ready to face the day while the other is getting ready to finish it. It’s a little hard to explain, but it’s almost as if the fact that I’ve lived the day ahead of them (though this is technically not true) and that they are reliving the day that I’ve just had (also untrue), makes both of us more optimistic for the coming day.

And not only that, but when I really am alone from my California and Boston friends (a time chunk usually from about 4 until I sleep; they’re sleeping at this time so I can’t reach them), it pushes me to develop the relationships around me, instead of through the internet. Looking at the Super Blood Moon with my grandma was a new kind of bonding experience that I don’t get at home–and it was pretty nice seeing that the rest of my apartment complex was also looking out from their balconies and enjoying the moon.