Monthly Archives: April 2016

“Parting is such sweet sorrow…”


As I sit here typing out my last blog post, in my increasingly emptying room, melancholy grips me tight as the evidence of my stay here gradually disappears with each item I stow into my luggage. At the same time, I smuggle away memories and souvenirs into my overflowing bags in an attempt to take back as much of Japan as I can with me. Being here in Japan has been one of the greatest moments in my life. Seeing Mount Fuji, climbing the steps to the famed red gates of Fushimi Inari, strolling down the world’s busiest crosswalk in Shibuya, I can now claim that I have done them.


Kawaguchiko @ Mt. Fuji




Sakura behind Kitazono Women’s Dorm

But as they say, all good things must come to an end.

I did not experience much of a culture shock, coming here, but I fear that the reverse applies to me. I have become adept at navigating the congested streets and transferring from train to train. The wonder that is the combini, the kaiten sushi, the greetings and farewells that pass my lips when exiting and entering the dorm–after four months, I confess that it will be disorienting to not have them anymore when I return to the U.S. I came to Japan with no knowledge of the language, no one I knew, and nothing to lose, but now I leave with the basics of Japanese, friends from not just all over the U.S. but Japan too, and a metric ton of experiences. As much as the lure of home calls to me, it will be difficult to leave.

I would say that after these few months, I have become a little more worldly, a bit more of an adult. Studying abroad has encouraged me to budget my time and money and to also prioritize within my means. I have had to balance out maintaining my grades while also seeing as much of Japan as possible. Being so far away, it is so easy to slip into the mindset that it is vacation, and it doesn’t help that there is so much to do! But I do think that studying abroad is one of those experiences that you should not miss out while you are a student. As a working adult, it is hard to find a job that allows you to stay in a different place long enough to explore the country fully, much less allow a vacation long enough to do so. Living in Tokyo and being a student here, solidified the people in my eyes. Before, I consciously knew people lived in Japan but it was really abstract, kind of like the scenery or when you watch reality TV show but there is a disconnect. But after mingling with them and living with them, it really hit me that these are real-life people, and I am going through the same motions through life as they are. Pretty crazy. I have heard this from others who studied abroad before me, and I agree with them in that you learn about yourself while abroad. I never realized how much I identified with my American side until I came here. As a child of two worlds, I was always on the fence about what part was Chinese and what was American. I totally get the cliche moments when you bring something really weird like pig feet for school lunch, and people crinkle their nose and you are reminded how “un-American” you are because it’s not PB&J. But recently I have had “Aha!” moments where I realize what I just did was very Western and everyone else knows it too. It is definitely a funny feeling to have that reversal, but I am much more appreciative of my background now.

If you ever get the chance to study abroad, seriously, go with it. I regret nothing.

With this, I’m closing out this chapter of my life, and so I bid farewell to this place I have come to learn and appreciate. 日本,さよなら!Japan, farewell! May we re-unite again soon.



A day of exploring Tokyo


Candid photo of Gresham Smith and Lourdes Monje exploring the city of The Zojoji Temple and The Tokyo Tower in Minato-ku


Moved to Omotesando to get lost in the city while exploring the impressive and crazy architecture of Tokyo.



But first, lets get coffee. Kya’s choice of the trusted Starbucks.


Candid photo of Gresham Smith and Lynch Zhang debating the architecture over a cup of coffee



We wanted to compare the McDonalds in different countries; they’re the same!


Getting left behind at the light and everyone strikes a pose.


Opalia Meade in Shibuya about to go Shopping!


The endless options of gifts and souvenirs


We shopped till we dropped! Now let’s get some food please.


We ate so much, we had to stand up.

Trip To Nikko


What better way to procrastinate during Finals than to travel to another city for a day? Well that’s how the architects do it! Our architecture professors, the wonderful Dr. Deanna MacDonald, James Lambiasi, and Naho Degawa took the architecture students on a one day trip to Nikko!



Sanjinko (Three Sacred Storehouses)


The Shinkyo Bridge (神橋, Shinkyō, “sacred bridge”)


I swear I didn’t plan the matching scarf! Photo Credit: the wonderful Opalia Meade


After spending 15 hours each week together in classes and field trips, I can’t believe I’m saying this but…I’ll miss them.


Architecture students in front of Nikkō Tōshō-gū


The beautiful Opalia Meade in front of the Shinkyo Bridge 神橋


Tosho-gu shrine. The first ever colored shrine we have ever seen.


Architecture students and professors at the Tosho-gu shrine. Photo Credit: The Great Dr. Deanna MacDonald


Constructing the beauty of nature


Flip it with the The Gojunoto Pagoda. Photo Credit: Opalia Meade


The force of nature!


It’s very beautiful to sit and relax during Finals Week!


Nikko is known for their tofu and let me tell you..that was the best tofu I have ever had!


Enjoying the end of the trip with a view of Lake Chūzenji

After a great view of watching the sunset, we went to catch out trains, but not until we got a glimpse of the Yayoi Festival.


Yayoi Festival


Yayoi Festival

The Yayoi Festival occurs April 13-17, where the main event is on the 17th. For the Yayoi Festival, floats “hana-yatai” visit towns with food and drinks to signal the arrival of Spring. It was a humbling experience to watch the small town come outside and share an evening of laughter and happiness.



Bathtime is serious business…


And I don’t mean that in the way parents wrangle children into cleanliness as they try to escape. In Japan they seem to value baths, and it can be seen in the way that the bathrooms are structured to always include the bathtub with the shower and the easily found bath salts and “bath bombs” in drugstores. I also noted that there are a large number of Lush stores, more than I had ever seen while I was in California.

In an anthropology class that I recently took here, we discussed the term, skinship. Here, parents bathe with their children when they are young versus bathing children as it is usually in the U.S. The purpose of this is to strengthen the relationship between parent and child. And this concept of skinship can be seen also in the way that strollers are not as common as parents toting their babies around in carriers strapped around their front.

On the other hand, this translates to a very foreign experience for me. I couldn’t leave Japan without visiting an onsen which is like the equivalent to a hot spring. I would say it is one of the defining characteristics of Japan since I had always wanted to go to one before coming here, and as a country near much tectonic activity, Japan has many onsen. Furthermore, it emphasizes Japan’s fondness for baths since after a brisk shower to clear off any impurities, people sit and rest in these baths. (In addition, Japan also has public bath houses called sento.) People pay good money for onsen and sento. I mean, I think most people in the U.S. just take a bubble bath at home instead of paying. That being said, I am a little in love with onsen now. But that was after I got over the paralyzing terror that I would have to expose my nudity to complete strangers and my friend, although they were all female since most places are separated by gender. I don’t think I’m the only one out there with that initial sentiment. I had thought that I could keep my towel on me the whole time, and let it be known that swimwear is not permitted. Then I realized that the towel I was given was only for drying off.

Sooo…when in Rome, right? I bucked up my courage and went for it. Kudos to the Japanese for feeling comfortable with themselves to not be self-conscious. There is no staring or awkwardness because we’re all the same, and if anything, I came out with a confidence boost. I figured I shouldn’t be concerned about it since it was my body, and I should be okay with what I was born with. Body-shaming has always been a pretty important issue, and I liked how it didn’t matter how old you were or what size. You could go in there and just enjoy yourself without judgment, and that is exactly what my friend and I did. After awhile, the discomfort of being exposed evaporated. It was just so peaceful, relaxing in the hot water and stepping out to cool off on stone or wood benches while chatting quietly. It was the perfect way to decompress after my finals.


Went to LaQua at Tokyo Dome so if you wanted, you could go to the amusement park afterwards

Ladies and gents, my personal recommendation is to definitely try it. There is such a good feeling afterwards, and I am completely on board with the Japanese in regards to onsen.


Eating Out and Etiquette


There is an inkling of truth to when people joke about college students sustaining themselves on ramen. I am aware that I am playing into that conception, but in my defense, I am in Japan where ramen is nothing like that disappointing instant meal comprised of seasoning, noodles, and water. That’s not even factoring in all the different types of ramen Japan has. It is fundamentally on an another level. As such, its tastiness combined with cheapness is sure to keep you coming back.

But here’s the thing, ordering it is different than in the U.S. You order from a vending machine. Insert cash, choose the desired ramen and whatever additions you like by pressing the respective buttons, take the ticket(s) and change, and then hand the ticket(s) to the cook. Depending on restaurant, sometimes there is a waiter or waitress who will take them instead, but usually that’s only in larger restaurants. If you come during a quiet time, you might end up seating yourself. I actually like this system since I don’t have to worry about paying since I have already done it beforehand, and the process is straightforward. It is not just ramen shops that do this too since I have seen tonkatsu and udon restaurants with them. However, other restaurants typically follow the same kind of service as they do in the U.S. and in some cases, you can summon the waitress/waiter with a button which I find pretty useful since I always feel bad making them wait when I take awhile to decide my order.

As a side note, I would like to mention that while eating ramen, it is perfectly acceptable to slurp and to eat it silently is actually considered unusual. I went to eat with a Japanese acquaintance once, and it was remarked upon that I ate ramen in an interesting way because I didn’t make a noise. Honestly, by myself or with people I’m close with, I slurp and stuff my face in an unattractive manner, but I have been conditioned to eat properly in polite company, so I didn’t even think of it. It’s interesting how slurping in the U.S. is to be avoided while in Japan it’s expected, particularly when eating noodle soups. Just like how it is okay to drink your miso soup directly from the bowl in Japan instead of using a spoon.


Amazing pork ramen

Another thing I would like to point out is that service is good and efficient in Japan, but there isn’t that much customer/server interaction. That said, tipping is not part of the culture here so it is best not to. They are paid normal wages, and it might be insulting to do so. Also, doggy-bagging is not a thing here. If you have leftovers, unfortunately they will have to be left behind.

If you are in a rush in the mornings, it makes sense to grab your breakfast and eat it on the go. Actually, I’m pretty sure that is some of the advertising points on some foods in the U.S. Curiously enough, you rarely see anyone eating as they walk if it isn’t an open stall road with vendors selling street food. It just simply isn’t done, especially on the train, and you might end up drawing a few looks from people.

Hopefully, that gives a heads up on what’s proper and not when out eating in public!


Random and Spontaneous Outings


The nice thing about being in a city as large as Tokyo is that there is never really is a moment where you have run out of things to see or do. Thanks to the train system, it is also convenient. That being said, I have taken the initiative to try and hit up as many hot spots as I can, so if you are looking for a couple of suggestions, I have you covered.

Nakano Broadway

The name is a little bit misleading. It’s called Nakano Broadway, and as for me personally, I immediately associated it with bright lights and musicals. I was woefully off-base as I found out when I arrived. Don’t let that deter you because it is a nice place to wander around and shop a little should you be so inclined like my friends and me. The crowning glory is in the basement of the building though. If you are a fan of soft serve ice cream, I challenge you to finish the glorious delicious monstrosity below. Come with an empty stomach because I had breakfast beforehand and wiped out somewhere along the last 20% of the ice cream and the entire cone. If you want to play it safe though, the treat can be split with someone else and still be more than enough. I don’t recall the exact price, but it was around 500 yen which makes it pretty cheap considering the size of it. The biggest challenge is actually eating it fast enough before it all melts without it tipping and falling off he cone.


I needed a mini spoon to eat this

Jimbocho’s strip of bookshops

If you are as much of a book lover as I am, Jimbocho’s strip of bookshops, about a 5 minute walk from the train station, is the place to go. You can find books, comics, and the occasional DVD but for the most part, all of them are used. In other words, if you want to save a little and get a “new” book, this is a good place to start off. Certainly there are a large number of Japanese books but there is also a selection of English ones. I even saw some in German. Not to mention, one of the biggest used bookstores there has a whole floor upstairs dedicated to English books, and it was fantastic. I fell in love with the place a little because it reminded me of a European study from the 1800s with its old fashioned shelves with glass doors, carpeted floors, and dim lights from hanging lights. Some of the books there were probably considered antique, judging from the binding, and a few of the collections had tags that warn against touching. On the whole though, they have a large section filled with classics like Poe and Hawthorne. However, they have an even larger selection of books for personal edification where you can read up on Nietzsche if you’re feeling philosophical or apply Jung if wanting to probe the psychological workings of the mind. I was most impressed by the whole bookcase that was all analysis on Chaucer’s work. If I were an English major, I would be having a field day.


You can browse books just on the street

That said, just a tip. Don’t be afraid to explore since you’ll never know what gems you’ll end up stumbling across!


The Bubble


This isn’t the beginning of a Japanese urban legend, although there are quite a few of those floating around that are guaranteed to give you nightmares if you are as easily frightened as me.

However, like the purpose of these legends are to warn the listeners, this is a sort of alert to avoid the bubble if one decides to study abroad. What is this bubble, you may ask then? It is that invisible barrier between you and the locals of whichever country it may be. It is an unconscious act of grouping oneself with the other study abroad students or fellow Americans and then placing everyone else in the other group. Without realizing it, it is harder to notice that your time and attention is focused on people with familiar customs rather than the people whose customs you’d like to learn. I know that in the first month that was kind of the case for me, since I did not speak the language and had no idea how to communicate what I wanted. It was very much an in and then out process. I would duck into a store, purchase what I wanted without word, and then back out just as quickly. Not to mention, I stuck close with other study abroad students.

But then I realized that I wanted to actually talk to the people here, and hiding behind what was familiar was not conducive to getting anywhere close to that goal. I wanted to improve my Japanese, and if I was not speaking it, I obviously wasn’t improving. The only way to get around that was to leave my safe bubble. Part of the difficulty is that all of the classes I had chosen were dominated by Americans, so it didn’t leave that many opportunities to chat with actual Japanese students. This might have been because all my classes were focused on Japanese studies and language, and Japanese students are less likely to take classes in things they are already well-versed in. However, I ended up using the HelloTalk app which allows native speakers to search for people who are native speakers in another language so they can exchange help in order to better learn. It even comes with an option to correct the other’s text so they can see where mistakes were made, which is very helpful. Actually, the Japanese friend that I had mentioned before in “A Natural Beauty Beyond Compare” is one of the people that I talked with while trying to learn Japanese.

It was really interesting to hear what these people had to say, especially their perceptions of what Americans were like. I think the stereotype that seems pretty prevalent is over food, as in we have a lot of fast food, which okay, yes, admittedly we do, but also that we are into hamburgers. I personally don’t eat fast food that often. I don’t think the average American eats as many hamburgers as they think we do though. From those that I have talked to, it seems to them that we eat a lot of meat, specifically beef.  Ironically enough, being in Japan, I have eaten the most meat and the least amount of vegetables in my life. I have been asked several times about the diet of an American, which I found hard to explain because of the cultural diversity that makes each family different and as such, eat different things. For them, it was equally difficult to compute that there isn’t really a standard meal for all families since they come from a mostly homogeneous country in which there are standard meals.


Kotaro guiding me

I think I have been able to experience and learn a lot from my conversations with the people I have met in Tokyo, and I really hope I have been able to return the favor. Even more so, I hope to maintain these friendships even after I return home!


TUJ Imperial Palace Tour


TUJ is off to a special tour to the Imperial Palace organized by TUJ Student Activities.


Lauren with the iconic Fuji-mi Yagura 富士見櫓 (Mt Fuji View Watchtower)

temple flag held

Temple flag held in front of the Fujimi-yagura


Of course I had to get one. Photo Credit: Lauren Hummel


TUJ students follow the Temple flag during the special Imperial Palace Tour


One of Japans brilliant strategies during the war was the steep wall protecting the watchtower, castles, and royal buildings.


Simon Ishibashi bridge overlooking the city


Old with the new


TUJ students in front of the National Diet Building. Thanks to the passerby who offered to take a photo of our group.

The great thing about Japan is that these “slow-soft” experiences of visiting traditional Japan simultaneously happens with the rushed, overly dense city. 



Svetlana making her way to Takeshita Street


Takeshita Street in the morning


Takeshita Street same day during the night. Looks like nothing changed but the sky.


Hope you enjoyed the juxtaposition of s l o w and fast experience that define Japan.


Special moments in Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka

golden pavilion

Epic, I wonder what happened to my hair. With the much anticipated Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 Photo Credit: Meillyn


group pavilion

Group shot at the Golden Pavilion. Photo Credit: Meillyn Molina


Much loved Golden Pavilion Kinkaku-ji


A deer in Nara Park where they’re allowed to roam freely



Aw the deer doesn’t want Amber biscuits anymore


A deer will bow to you if you place food above your head


Candid moment in Nara Park


TUJ students in front of Osaka Castle. Photo Credit: Gresham


TUJ students in front of Osaka Castle

river cruise

Waiting for our Osaka River Cruise to start. Thanks to our tour guide for offering to take our photo!



Grabbed ice cream to cool down



Famous Dōtonbori in Osaka


Emma at Dōtonbori


Riding the bullet train “shinkansen” back to Temple’s Campus


Kyoto II


Group shot in front of the Byōdō-in. Thanks to the by-stander that offered to take our photo.




TUJ students enjoying the view of Byōdō-in


Candid moment of a true tree hugger


Gresham in front of the Torii Gates


Luck charms


Me in front of the Torii Gates in Kyoto. Photo Credit: Gresham Smith


Zoe discovered an abandoned sacred area full of gates, now that’s a real advanture


It’s a relaxing day in Kyoto


Amber enjoying the small moments


Found a geisha. Photo Credit: Jazzymn Hong


Zoe trying the literally fresh orange juice, perfect choice after a long day of extra walking