Monthly Archives: November 2015

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas!

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It’s only November here in Tokyo, but Japan is gearing up for the holiday season! Before going to the Big Bang concert, I actually spent some time walking around Kora-kuen, which is the area right outside Tokyo Dome.

There’s a bunch of things to do, as it’s a shopping outlet with lots of different kinds of foods (Korean tofu stew, pizza, takoyaki, etc.) that are especially good for warming you up in the winter! There’s even a couple amusement park rides on the ground level, as well as some geometric installations. The area is actually not that big, but there’s so much packed in a little space that you can spend a good half-day just walking around!

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There’s also a merry-go-round and a rollercoaster here! The ferris wheel belongs to the amusement park next door

Quick side-note: my aunt actually brought one of my school projects (Flat Stanley, anyone?) here about 10 years ago and took a picture with this same exact rollercoaster! She hadn’t ridden that rollercoaster since, and we decided to give it a try today. Do not be fooled, this was SO much scarier than it looked — I couldn’t even scream properly because the drop froze my face in place!!! Anyway, even though this was my first time being here, it felt weirdly nostalgic to be walking around and finally seeing in person what was in a picture from so long ago. It was a rainy and cloudy day back then, and it was a rainy and cloudy day when I visited too (though personally I love rainy weather)!

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The lowest floor was dubbed the “Christmas Tree Plaza”

The days are getting shorter here, so it started getting dark at around 4:00-5:00 PM. But that meant the decorations were starting to be lit up, which livened up the whole atmosphere! And this is only one of the few illumination displays going on around Tokyo — this was just the first I’d seen, without expecting it. Other ones you can find usually during November-January:

– Rikugien Gardens (for an illumination of nature)
– Yomiuri Land (an amusement park somewhat further out from Tokyo)
– Roppongi Hills, Omotesando Hills, Ginza (all the big shopping outlets have great displays)
– Terraced rice fields (unique, though these are very FAR!!)

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The decorations lit up at nighttime

I’m not going home for the holidays, but Japan really seems to celebrate the holiday season with so much (possibly even more) zeal that it’s impossible anything but cheery! I don’t know what it is about lights, but I could’ve spent alllllllll evening just basking in those displays.

 

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K-Pop in Japan

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With Japan so close to Korea, it’s impossible for the hallyu (flow of Korea) wave not to spread here! Even on the train, you can see advertisements of Korean boy bands or girl groups like CNBLUE or 2NE1. But for some reason, while I realized the chances of them coming to Japan are better than them coming to America, it didn’t even cross my mind to try to see Korean acts here in Japan!

I was super bummed because Big Bang, a 5-member boy band from YG Entertainment in Korea, had gone to America for their MADE world tour, but I’d just missed it by 2 weeks. But my aunt, who knows that my little cousin and I both love Big Bang, signed up for a lottery for Big Bang tickets… AND WE GOT IT!!!!!!!!!! I don’t know how to express this online, but this is SERIOUSLY CRAZY because Big Bang’s tickets usually sell out and they’re not cheap either.

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3 hours outside Tokyo Dome before the Big Bang concert

Our seats were pretty high up on the 3rd balcony, but I didn’t care!!! Big Bang was so good live, and it was my first time actively being a part of the fandom. I really grew up with this group, as they got really popular in 2008 (my junior high years). So they mean so much to me!! Getting to see them live definitely made my life feel more complete. I can go on and on about how important K-Pop is to me, but I’ll just stop here…

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Tokyo Dome before the concert

When the concert started, Tokyo Dome completely changed! All the lights went out and the fans turned on their lightsticks and started moving them to the beat, making the audience look like a waving mass of stars. Fans call these “oceans,” and usually the group has their own color. Big Bang’s was yellow and red.

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If you can spot the Big Bang lightstick at the bottom, there’s a bright yellow crown on top of a red “B”

Unfortunately, I was not so lucky for the next act I wanted to see here in Japan. Apparently, you have to be super prompt right when the ticket sales open… which I was not… because I thought this band was not very well known in Japan yet. I guess I need to step up my game if I want to call myself a fan here!

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Tickets were sold out for hyukoh, an indie-rock Korean band…

If you’re planning on seeing any artists/musicians while you’re here, you might want to brush up on the ticketing systems before you get here. You’ll probably either buy them at your local conbini (convenience stores like Sunkus, 7-Eleven, Lawson, etc.), but you’ll need to be able to at least read/write basic Hiragana and Katakana. Or, if you want to skip all that, you can choose to buy tickets through outside services, like JapanConcertTickets, which will navigate through all the foreign machines to buy the tickets for you (if you can beat out the rush of fans who are waiting for the moment the pre-sale opens), but usually at a much higher price. But regardless, you should definitely check out some concerts here in Japan! The music scene here is really diverse, and there are a lot more foreign artists than you might expect. Who knows, maybe you might find your new favorite band here?

Tokyo Ramen Show

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Luckily the weather is still nice!! Though it is getting a little chillier and windier, these kinds of days are perfect for outdoor festivals like the Tokyo Ramen Show, where the noodles can warm you up and hit all the right spots. This show in particular was advertised as “representing the different regions of Japan,” which is sweet, sweet music to the ears of someone who’s been commuting in Japan for too long. It takes forever to go from one destination to another, but prefectures are on a completely different level (I love food, but traveling to a whole other district just to try their ramen is a bit much for me!). So this was super convenient and cool for all these chefs to come from all over the country to promote their regional food cultures!

Waiting in one of many lines, but it didn’t take very long for a steaming bowl of ramen!

Each ramen ticket was 850 yen, which is really not bad for a good bowl of noodles. My aunt and little cousin recommended that we try three different types of broth: shoyu (soy sauce), tonkotsu (pork bone), and miso/bonito. I’m sure there were a lot of other ones, especially since there were apparently “special collaborative ramens,” but these three are very classic types of broth. Still, you can clearly tell the difference between all three! Even the noodles were different: thick and hearty, thin and curly, and thin and smooth. My favorite one was the heartiest – from Kagoshima, with pork, half-boiled eggs, and a yuzu-cabbage mixture. I didn’t even know that ramen could differ in so many aspects!! And (as I am a topping fiend), the toppings truly do make the perfect additions to those noodles.

Afterwards, we got some kakigori, a Japanese shaved ice dessert. If you’re from Southern California, it’s a liiiiittle similar to Class 302 or Snow Station in texture. In general, Japanese desserts are not as sweet as Western ones, but this means you can eat more of it without getting sick of the sweetness as quickly! Though this was a festival for ramen, the line was the longest for the kakigori stand because shaved ice actually takes a bit of time to prepare for that super soft, fluffy texture. We got the matcha flavor (we had to since it’s a classic), but all the other flavors sounded equally as appetizing, like salted caramel, or purple sweet potato (super curious about this one!).

Walking off our bellies full of ramen in the park

Besides all that ramen, the show took place in Komazawa Olympic Park. Autumn is in full swing, and the trees were just starting to change color! There were a bunch of families playing underneath the trees, skateboarders at their own skate park, and even the trendiest Shibuya teens were enjoying the weather and noodles.

Daily Life at Temple Japan

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Temple Students Studying in Lounge. Sights like this are common at TUJ. Students are diligent here.

If you want to come to Temple University Japan or study abroad here, there’s some things you should be aware of. It’s a great school and a fun place to be. The campus is small, but that just adds to its character. I was surprised that the library was expansive and very nice. It had many volumes for its size and works you would have trouble finding other places. The computer lab was also nice and had great equipment. By the end of the semester, you will probably have seen everyone who goes to campus and will recognize people on trains and places away from campus. The students are friendly and if you are studying abroad they are endlessly helpful for information. If you come to TUJ, definitely get to know some of them. They can take you to places all across Tokyo that you might not know of otherwise. The friends I’ve made at TUJ were great at telling me how to get the best deals or the best places to eat around campus.

The student body is incredibly diverse and very friendly. There are people from all over the world, coming from 6 continents and dozens of countries. This brings up unique perspectives in and out of the classroom. It’s always fun speaking to them about events going on around the world and getting their perspective on it. The office staff who work at TUJ are also infinitely helpful and will sometimes know you by name if you visit their office more than once during the semester. The OSS office knew my name because I had to go there quite a bit over the semester for a number of reasons. When you have time to get food, there are many convenience stores very close to campus. If you crave something different, you have to walk a little more, but it’s worth it because there are great places, albeit a bit of a walk.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about TUJ is being able to balance work and play. You will want to explore Tokyo throughout the semester and the rest of Japan because there are endless things to do. However, make sure to stay on top of your assignments. If you study abroad, some universities, like mine, make you take five classes and this can be a little hectic at times, especially torwards the end of the semester with finals just around the corner. Taking a foreign language, such as Japanese, is especially demanding and you will fall behind if you don’t stay on top of things. However, the professors are very accommodating here and will be glad to help you.

I’m glad I came to TUJ. It has been a wonderful time. As the semester is starting to wrap up in a couple of weeks, I’m going to be sad to leave TUJ, but the people I met here and the experiences I’ve had will stay with me for a long time.

Tokyo Midtown Design Touch: Graphic Trial 2015

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Japan is known to be one of the artistically and technologically leading countries in the world– and with good reason! For a country that is so urbanized with its countless skyscrapers and constant improvements of functionality in everyday objects, they make room for a surprising amount of art. You can walk around almost any part of Tokyo and find something new and visually challenging.

The other day I was visiting a friend at Tokyo Midtown, which is a large shopping center in Roppongi, and we stumbled upon an art show called “Graphic Trial 2015,” a part of “Tokyo Midtown Design Touch.” It’s probably not one of the larger or more well-known shows (Takashi Murakami is showing at the Mori Art Museum right now, by the way!), but in a smaller gallery called the Design Hub. The following text is an excerpt from their pamphlet:

“Graphic Trial” began in 2006 as an attempt to capture new means of expression by examining in detail the relationship between graphic design and printing techniques. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the project, this exhibition will showcase a total of 210 posters created through collaborations between 42 groups pairing a creative artist with a printing director of Toppan Printing. The posters will be accompanied by various ‘printing experiments’, and will go on show in two terms.

Prints of big animals made from tiny lines

Honestly, I forgot to take down the names of the artists because they were written in such tiny print beneath on the floorboards, but the details in these prints were crazy. It’s hard to see from the distance that this photo was taken, but the jellyfish are made of a bunch of thin lines. Basically all these animals are made from tinier little drawings!

A colorful, minimal depiction of the printing process

This one somehow made me feel more at home just because it feels slightly more reminiscent of Kandinsky. This modern interpretation of the printing process seemed like a foreigner in this art space (like me, harhar), when compared with the other works exhibited.

Prints of children that look bubbly and fresh

This one looks more “characteristic” of Japan. Youth is of big value here. I think originally this was shown in 2013 in “Graphic Trial” (an annual exhibition of graphic works at the museum), so a lot of these prints were brought back from past shows to make one mega-collection of past Tokyo Midtown showings.

Anyway, we spent about a good hour here (the space isn’t that large), but we got to see a lot of different kinds of art; and next door in a glass studio, there were some Musashino Art Center students getting some work done. I couldn’t see exactly what they were doing because their workspace was so blocked off (it was probably also their midterm season), which somehow excited me. It’s nice to see people in their natural environment, focused on something they (hopefully) love .

We felt so renewed after having walked around Roppongi’s urban jungle. I honestly think that little spaces of art like this are something that Japan does really well (and maybe a little underappreciated in America). Imagine if we had nothing like this to look at! Our brains would go crazy from all the technical parts of life and mundane desk jobs (unless you enjoy that. Then all the more power to you). So take that beaten path! Check out the little gardens on the side of the building! Japan is almost bursting with art.

Other recommendations (though their exhibits will always be changing):
– Mori Art Museum (Yayoi Kusama was showing here, but I just missed it. SO BUMMED…)
– National Art Center
– 2121 Design Sight
– MOMAT
– Ginza for cool modern architecture
– Meiji Shrine for traditional, wooden architecture (and nature!)

Adventures in Yokohama!

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A cool building in Yokohama! It looks like a citadel in a castle almost.

A cool building in Yokohama! It looks like a citadel in a castle almost.

The problem with iconic cities in a country (such as Paris, London, or New York) is that tourists want to go to these cities and rarely venture outside of these areas. This leads some tourists to believe the city represents the rest of the country, which sometimes irritates people who live outside of these major cities.

This is also true in Yokohama, where people don’t like being associated with Tokyo.  Why should they be? Although trains in Tokyo do go to Yokohama, the city is in another prefecture. I had the pleasure of seeing this city, which is near to Tokyo, but different in quite a few ways. My friends and I met at the train station around noon and went to the Ramen museum. I expected the museum to be just about ramen. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t. It was about the creator of instant ramen and the important impact he made on the world. The museum not only gives people a history lesson about the importance of instant ramen in history, but also encourages others to invent things and be inspired by the world around you. I was not expecting that. I was also not expecting the museum to be so aesthetically pleasing. Looking around the museum, one could tell that the museum was well thought out.

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Zen Temple Gate in Yokohama.

Statue of Amida Buddha in Yokohama Buddhist Temple. It was quite impressive.

Statue of the Amida Buddha in Yokohama Buddhist Temple. It was quite impressive.

After a ramen lunch at the museum cafeteria, we decided to head to a famous zen Buddhist temple. We got lost while trying to find it, but eventually did find it. When we entered the temple grounds, it became hard to justify why we couldn’t find the temple. The place was enormous and beautiful. Being the architecture nut I am, I was happy to see how beautiful the temple was. One of the monks at the temple was very friendly and answered our questions about the temple in perfect English. The place was quiet and he invited us to stay and watch a ceremony. So we did. The ceremony was interesting to see and it was cool to watch a sect of Buddhism perform rituals that have been around for over 1,500 years.

After thanking the monk who happily gave us a tour, we headed towards China Town. I was curious to see how this compared to the China Town in LA, near where I live. Needless to say it was different. It was beautiful and along the route with shops and restaurants, there were also cool shrines and a couple of Chinese architecture inspired temples. We walked around for a little bit and then chose a restaurant that looked good and had dinner. After dinner we left Yokohama.

Although Yokohama is close to Tokyo, it has its own unique flair. The city is a great spot for anyone to come and I had a great time. I recommend to anyone vacationing in Tokyo to get outside Tokyo once and go to different places such as the countryside or other major cities. Then get lost in that area–you might like what you find.

Spirited Away (and Back)

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Soooo… it’s been a while since I’ve written anything sappy and introspective. A bunch of my recent posts are about touring Japan’s coolest and weirdest sites – and most likely, your emotional state is going to feel quite similar! In the beginning of being here, you think about how different you are and it’s easy to focus on how much you’re struggling to be a part of a country that you don’t feel you belong to (not yet at least; I know a lot of foreigners who have integrated pretty seamlessly into the community by now). But it’s quite humbling to see the other Japanese students working twice as hard to put their English knowledge into use.

And all of a sudden you want to go explore everything when you realize that things are not as terrible as you’re making them seem! You also realize that you don’t have a lot of time left and then try to pack everything in on the weekends and experience things, while still trying to keep yourself together (and not completely try to assume the form of a Japanese tourist, because you want to be a local, not just another gaijin!) I don’t know about anyone else because, in my experience, people don’t even talk about adaptation at this point in the school year. Just like that, the culture shock is gone and so are the cloudy eyes! I think we’re all a bunch more capable than we think we are. 🙂

Although.. you do still feel homesick from time to time. Autumn marks the start of the holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, other religious holidays, etc.) and while everyone thinks about the craziness that will be in Shibuya, there are obvious differences that make you think of home more than you usually do. For one, people might not understand your Halloween costume, if you’re referencing something more obscure in American pop culture. Kids don’t go trick-or-treating and instead, the holiday becomes celebrated by a majority of adults (something about that makes it feel… like the holiday has changed in its purpose? But anyway, I digress again).

But when it comes down to it, Halloween is not that much different! I heard that Halloween used to not be big in Japan, but it definitely is now. The Japanese Don Quixote (pronounced donkihote here) shops start laying out their Halloween promotional items at the end of September, and pumpkin starts taking over as the seasonal flavor. If anything, it seems like Japan goes harder than America in the costume department – so much face paint and glitter and metallics!! So while the holidays make you miss home, the differences between the country in which you’re studying abroad and your home can become less apparent.

Happy Halloween! This is the storefront of a little shop in Shibuya before the festivities. (And yes, there are still tons of girls dressed as cats.)

Kiba Square Log Rolling

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Before midterms got rolling around a couple weeks ago, I had some free time to explore more of Japan. The weather was still in its few good days (and hopefully we’ll get some more before the winter chills!) and I’m always looking for interesting/new experiences here in Japan. A lot of people like to pick up tips from local residents, but a lot of the events I’ve actually been to were found in the little magazines that restaurants leave for waiting customers! This time around, I found… the Kiba Square Log Rolling at Kiba Park!

Some history on this activity/event: The Kiba area of Koto-ku derives its name from the once prolific lumberyards and warehouses. (Kiba is literally “lumberyard.”) Kiba no kakunori, or square log rolling, developed as a folk art from this unique background. It sprang from the process of assembling rafts for transport, in which the lumberyard workers maneuver thick, massive logs with only a single fire hook. Apparently, it’s a huge part of Kiba traditional culture (isn’t it surprising how different Japan’s regions – and even districts – are?).

Probably one of their best known tricks:

(Sorry about the terrible quality of these pictures; I was quite far back in the crowd and had to zoom in a lot.)

The log rollers are all a bunch of older men considered “masters” at the art. They started off with simple tricks, like a pair of two guys stepping on the logs in synchronization. If one of them oversteps even by a second, the whole rhythm is thrown off and the team is at risk of falling into the water! A few actually did, but were really good sports about it – it was a hot day after all, so the water was probably really refreshing.

But the tricks started getting more and more intricate (and looked more dangerous) near the end of the log rollers’ showing. They started to forego their fire sticks (eliminating their sense of balance and relying only on their own) and carried umbrellas and fans (though as much as they tried not to look nervous, we can tell they were, haha). Then a few of them started wearing geta!!!–those traditional Japanese block sandals! Walking alone in those are hard, but they rolled those logs!! In basically heels! I’m still baffled thinking about it.

 

The log rollers had their own little protégés – the smallest and youngest, probably being around twelve. At the end, two of the older log rollers carried the boy in a traditional carriage while on two separate logs. And another jumped off from the end of one log onto another!!! Crazy coordination!! And afterwards, there was a large flea market (I snagged a nifty $5 windbreaker) and lots of food vendors to get some tasty yakitori and other grilled goods.

There’s so much that can go wrong in log rolling, but these guys made it look so easy!

People in Japan Celebrate Halloween? Sort of.

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One day at school I heard that Halloween, in a well known part of Tokyo called Shibuya, was a lot of fun during Halloween. My friends and I heard that practically everyone at Temple University Japan was going, so we all decided to go, as well. I arrived first around 8 0’clock because I had heard it was crazy and crowded beyond all belief. Nothing could have prepared me for the crowd. It was crazy. It was extremely difficult to move–every square space seemed to have people on it. After going through much trouble to find my friends in the crowd we set off to “walk” around.

This picture does not show how crowded it was too well. It was so bad that it was difficult to walk!

This picture does not show how crowded it was too well. It was so bad that it was difficult to walk!

This involved people shoving us and our group shoving to get around. It was very difficult to even walk. We walked around and saw some of the most incredible costumes. Many people, both foreigners and Japanese, had put a lot of effort into their costumes. Some of them looked as though they had taken hours upon hours to complete. Others were simple, but very creative, such as a group of Charlie Chaplins I ran into, and they loved that I knew who they were. It was fun for me to see that people still appreciate Chaplin’s humor and movies. Many people also had costumes from TV Shows, movies, and Video Games that looked incredibly authentic. I ran into an Australian dressed as “Mad Max” from the “Mad Max” movie series. The fact that he was Australian made it even better. After a while many of us in our group had seen our share and were becoming claustrophobic because it was impossible to move in many places.

When I left I began wondering about Halloween in Japan in a larger historical and cultural context. Mind you, that Halloween is not widely celebrated in Japan. Most people know what it is, but don’t celebrate it. Over the past decade, according to my host family and Japanese professor, it has become more prevalent in Japan and more and more people are celebrating it. However, Japan has always had a way of adopting things from other cultures and making it their own, whether it’s technology, language or religion. Even some holidays are adopted by Japan. For example, Christmas in Japan is similar to New Years in the United States. Lovers typically spend this time together and people host parties at their house or elsewhere. Christmas in Japan has a unique Japanese flair to it and customs different from the United States or Europe. New Years in Japan is similar to Christmas in America and Europe because people typically go back to their families houses and spend time with their extended family and it is considered a sacred holiday in Japan.

Many people on Halloween in Japan go to Shibuya to have a good time and meet other people. Halloween in Japan has its own unique qualities and customs that makes it uniquely “Japanese.” Japan has adopted things over the centuries and integrate it into its culture, who knows, Halloween may be next.