Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Language of Friendship


This weekend, the SA Japanese class was invited to the house of Kaetsu University’s English Language teacher, Shimizu-sensei, for a cultural exchange party with her students. They offered “traditional” American food and Mexican cuisine, so a few of the study abroad students made the long trip out to Hanakoganei (about an hour away from the Kitazono Dormitory).


Matsuhashi-sensei, Abby, Cassandra, and Shannon wait for the bus outside Hanakoganei Station


“When you introduce yourself, it’s 初めまして、(name)-です,” Matsuhashi-sensei says.


Mingling: Tohru and Shannon meet Kaetsu students Miku and Kaede.

All of the food was cooked by Shimizu-sensei and her students. There was spare ribs, burgers, corn dogs, make-your-own tacos and nachos, enchiladas, deviled eggs, and a small cheese pizza.



Guacamole? What a rare treat!


Matsuhashi-sensei also baked an apple pie for all of the homesick American students.





Justynn and Kaede have fun talking about their interests and the struggles of learning a new language.


Special thanks to Shimizu-sensei and her students for welcoming us into her home and feeding us delicious food!

Communication was a bit of a struggle. Many of Shimizu-sensei’s students are beginners in English, just as the study abroad students are just beginning to learn basic phrases in Japanese. But the room was filled with chatting, laughter, pictures being passed around on iPhones, and exchanges of Facebook and Instagram accounts. Even though there was no common language, the exchange of culture drove the festivities onward. We look forward to meeting our new friends again!


Field Trips and (Educational) Parties?!


One of the newest classes at Temple University is Special Topics: Practical Japanese for the Study Abroad Student. This class not only teaches useful Japanese phrases to students, but also helps to immerse them in the culture through class activities and educational field trips. For this field trip, the class visited Zojo-ji (a Buddhist temple in Shibakoen) and Tokyo Tower.


Before entering a temple or shrine, everybody must cleanse themselves through harae (ritual water cleansing).


The SA Japanese class with a few native-speaking special guests! (Tohru from Temple University, Tom, Fumi, and Kaede)

“But the title mentioned a party?”

Correct! But yet again, not that kind of party.

Kitazono Dormitory, where many of the female students live, hosted an exchange party on Sunday (September 18th). There were some traditional summer festival games, free food, and lots of conversation between all of the tenants!



Nagashi Somen: cold noodles flowing in running water. Part of the challenge is to catch the noodles before they hit the ground.


Temple Student Mari and some of the other tenants celebrate their catch.


One of the dorm staff members helped to make kakigori (shaved ice) for the girls.


Fun games to play for prizes! Like ring toss for candy.


Or yo-yo tsuri for a cool yo-yo water balloon.


Kaya dropped her balloon 😦


One of the tenants, Mai, showed off her grandmother’s yukata.


Zojo-ji Temple and the Tokyo Tower


One of my favorite classes so far here at TUJ has been my Japanese for Study Abroad Students class. The class is new this semester, and differs from a traditional low level language class in that the curriculum focuses not necessarily on building the foundation of fluency, but instead on teaching practical phrases that students will need to successfully navigate life in Japan. The class runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays; on Tuesdays we focus on language, and then Thursdays are devoted to a crash course in Japanese culture, which has proved more helpful than I could ever imagine.

One of the first things we talked about in the culture section of the course was the influence of Japan’s two major religions, Buddhism and Shintoism on Japanese culture. Because of this, our first field trip was to the gorgeous Zojo-ji Temple and nearby Tokyo Tower.

The class met outside of Azabu hall under clouds that threatened to, but thankfully never actually did, open up on us at any second. We had originally planned to take a bus to the temple area, but our professor informed us that it was only about a twenty five minute walk from campus, so we decided to take advantage of the weather while it was still on our side. Before long, the Tokyo tower rose up above the surrounding buildings before us, though we initially walked around it to the Temple.

The class was amazed at the size of the Temple grounds; we past what seemed like five separate main gates before we finally found the one we were looking for, the one that was very obviously meant to be the main main gate. At the gate, we met up with three students from a Japanese university in Tokyo who were coming with us; they showed us how to properly cleanse our hands at the hand-washing tub, and how to burn the incense inside of the temple while praying. The inside of the temple was incredible. Understandably, pictures were forbidden inside out of respect, but it was one of the most peaceful and serene environments I had ever been in. A service of some sort was going on inside as we entered; unfortunately I do not know nearly enough about Buddhism to know what was going on, but I do know that I could have stayed in there for hours, and was very disappointed when our professor pulled us away to go to the tower, which had been the part of the trip I was initially looking forward to the most.

We went up to the midlevel observation deck at the tower, which was still more than high up enough to get an incredible view of Tokyo. The city spread out as far as we could see in every direction; I’m still having trouble fathoming just how truly massive this city is. When we got there it was still daylight, but as we hung out on the observation deck the sun set, and we watched the lights of Roppongi on one side and the Odaiba Ferris wheel on the other light up as the sky went dark, and it was incredible.

The trip was one of the best experiences I’ve had at TUJ and in Japan in general so far, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the semester with this class.

Mikoshi Matsuri – The Final Summer Festival


With the end of summer comes the last summer festival: mikoshi matsuri. This fabulous festival brings the entire community together for food, games, and traditional Shinto worship and displays of camaraderie. It was a two-day event on September 10th and 11th. So, with that, it’s time to learn some vocabulary for this post!

祭(り)(matsuri) = festival

神輿 (mikoshi) = divine palanquin/portable Shinto shrine

金魚掬い(kingyo sukui) = goldfish scooping

たい焼き (taiyaki) = “baked sea bream”; a baked fish-shaped cake filled with azuki (red bean paste)


Sahara and Ruby participate in the traditional game of 金魚掬い. There was even a tiny turtle version at the main temple! Unfortunately, the dorm does not allow pets, so all of the fish had to be returned to the pool.


The mikoshi in front of the main shrine. It is paraded through the streets of the city as a vehicle of the gods to bring good luck to the city and the bearers of the palanquin.


Grace is ready to get the festivities started! Her happi coat has the name of the city on the front collars and the kanji for 祭 on the back.


While the palanquin is very heavy, the bearers stay upbeat by “bouncing” the palanquin, clapping, and chanting. One of the carriers said that some mikoshi exceed 1000 kg (OVER 2,000 lbs!!!)


Some of the SA girls after carrying the mikoshi over a mile to the main shrine, but it doesn’t end there! The carrying started at 3pm and didn’t end until 10pm.


Everybody is all smiles despite the weight of their cargo.


Abby is participating in the “women’s only” section, where the men follow in the back as the women carry the mikoshi to the next destination.


Pausing for a picture with one of the shrine workers at one of the resting stops. He is wearing a traditional happi coat adorned with the city’s name, as well as 地下足袋 (jikatabi), or traditional shoes that split the toe from the rest of the foot.


The smiles are starting to disappear as the hours tick on, but the sound of clapping and chanting never wanes.


Finally, the end of the festival. Time to celebrate with some たい焼き!


Trip to the Beach


So it has taken twenty years, but I have finally seen the Pacific. This past Saturday, my landlord told Pat and I that he would be throwing a barbecue

party at Tsujido beach; we were invited, and told to bring some of our friends from school. So that morning we woke up, quickly stuffed towels and bathing suits into our backpacks, and biked to Shinagawa Station to meet up with our friends Alexis and Kyoko, and then took the train south to Tsujido station.

Sota, our landlord, picked us up from the station and drove us the approximate two kilometers to the beach, where the party was just getting set up. The party would consist of me and pat, Alexis and Kyoko, as well as a few of Sota’s previous renters, plus his family and friends. It was an incredibly international group, with representatives from Japan, the United States, Korea, the Netherlands, and Italy present. We sat around with a great view of the ocean all day, listening to music, eating oysters and grilling everything from chicken to steak to hash browns and vegetables. The grill area was set up at the top of the beach, under an bridge, providing shade, which later served to save the party when it got dark; a light bulb on a cord was strung down from the top of the bridge so we could carry on into the night.

Tsujido beach, I was told by Anoma, one of my roommates who speaks Japanese, is actually a very famous surf spot in Japan, and has been featured in popular TV shows and movies here, similar to the way Venice Beach in LA is always seen in American shows. Although the surf was calm on Saturday, I could see why. The beach was breathtaking, with the Pacific stretching out endlessly in front of us, and the famous Enoshima Prospects Lighthouse to our left. When we stood facing the ocean, to our right (south) were mountains that I wish we could have seen more clearly; unfortunately, the day was too hazy to make them into anything more distinct than dark, cloud like smudges on the horizon.

Physically, the beach itself was very different from the North Atlantic beaches that I’ve grown up with in two ways. One, the sand was black! This is from the volcanic nature of Japan and the Pacific in general. Second, the water was far warmer than I was used to. On my phone it said the water a Tsujido was about eighty degrees fahrenheit. There was no way that was true; it felt maybe more like somewhere in the mid seventies, but it was still very nice.

We finally got back to our house at around ten or eleven p.m. I was exhausted enough by the time we reached Shinagawa Station, and had completely forgotten that I still had a 3-kilometer uphill bike ride to go before I was actually home. It felt so good to get out of the city for a little while, and to finally see a part of Japan other than the endless urban sprawl of Tokyo.

Teaching English in Japan


It hit me as I woke up on Monday, the realization that now my grace period was over; orientation had come and gone, and I had a week of new classes and an internship ahead of me. My classes this semester are all on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving Monday, Wednesday, and Friday free for me to catch a train down to Kanagawa Sohgoh High School, where I’m interning as an English teacher.

On Monday morning I woke up early, at around five am, in order to build a few cushion hours into my schedule, as I knew there was no way I would be able to get to Yokohama without getting lost on my first day. However, things went smoother than expected. Shinagawa station is about a thirty-minute bike ride from my house, and then the high school is another twenty-five minutes by train down the line. The Tokyo summer is more humid than anywhere I’ve ever experienced, and by the time I got to the station I was sweating as if I’d sprinted there with weights strapped to my legs.

Kiichi-sensei, the English teacher at the high school with whom I’d had done my interview, met me at the station, and walked me to the school, where I was thrown right into the middle of things, helping him in his first period English class. The students were seniors, who were all actually about to graduate; the Japanese semester system works very differently than the American one, and their semester is about to end. In class we read an article from the Japan Times, the English language newspaper here in Tokyo, about how business are beginning to alter the layout of their offices to promote more cooperative thinking and bottom-up decision making. We talked about the various advantages and downsides to such a system, which, while slowly taking hold in some Japanese companies, remains rare here; business in Japan is still conducted in a very traditional way, with heavy emphasis on seniority and obedience.

The students’ English was fantastic; many of them had studied abroad in exchange programs. My role in the classroom was to walk around during their group discussions, stopping in at each group and asking questions designed to get them to formulate and articulate their own opinions about the material in English. I would also occasionally clarify an English idiom for the class or help come up with a less-clunky synonym for a word.

Later in the day I helped to administer oral exams, where the students would come sit at a table and I would ask them questions from a list in front of me, and then grade them on confidence, fluency, vocabulary, and grammar; I had a really good time getting to know the students by asking them questions like, “do you think that children should be more obedient to their parents?” and “should the Japanese government work to make the trains less crowded?” I was highly impressed with the student’s English abilities, and look forward to working with them for the rest of the semester.

The first week at my internship ended quietly; as it’s finals week here in Japan, there were no regular classes, so I sat at my desk grading student’s English assignments. I’m so glad that things went well this first week, and am honestly very excited to keep moving forward.

Welcome to The Parliament


On August 29th, classes officially started at Temple University Japan. With the opening of the new school year also came the opening of the new student lounge: The Parliament. Why is it called The Parliament? Hold that thought for a little bit.

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“Welcome back!” is heard throughout the halls as friends greet friends and teachers start their classes.

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A new sight on campus: the new student lounge on the first floor

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The Office of Student Services and the Student Government came together to host a welcome back/grand-opening party for the students

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The owl mural with Japanese patterns in its wings is a student work that adorns one of the walls in The Parliament

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To beat the heat, the caterers provided cold, fresh watermelon as well as other tasty treats

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Shaw partaking in the buffet

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Tak (OSS) and Omar serve drinks to students

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All of the food was prepared by Cezars. Here are the two chefs along with student co-coordinator James Peters from student government

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“Follow us on Snapchat!”: TUJ opens a snapchat account to help keep students up-to-date with activities happening on campus

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There was also a raffle drawing with prizes from the Admissions Counseling Office

So, have you guessed why the new lounge is called The Parliament? A group of owls is called a parliament, and the new lounge is a place where all of Temple’s owls come to gather.

Learning to get Around


At this point, two-ish weeks into my year in Japan, I like to think I’m starting to get the hang of getting around Tokyo, albeit slowly. I’ve reduced the time I spend lost everyday down to where it’s almost non-existent; my commute to and from school by bike is now within ten minutes of how long Google maps says it should take, and when I am lost, I can now mumble through enough rudimentary Japanese to ask how to get back to my neighborhood, by way of asking for my subway station (sumimasen, Musashi Koyama eki wa doko desu ka?).

The subways, and trains in general here, are incredible. They run about every five to ten minutes, are almost always on time, and are clean, air conditioned and…not exactly comfortable. The infamous pictures of people crowded into Tokyo subway car, packed tighter than one would imagine the physiology of the human body would allow are very much a reality, and as I commute to and from my internship in Yokohama at rush hour, they have become just another part of my day. What really amazes me about the trains though, is not how crowded they can get, which makes sense in a city of Tokyo’s size, but how orderly the whole scene is. There is no shoving; people simply pack themselves onto the cars, folding into their neighbor like they’re being vacuum packed for a long stay in the attic, and then, as if by magic, exit the train at their stop without commotion, no feet stepped on, everybody simply moving out of the way when someone needs to get by. It took me a while to grasp the unspoken rules that make up the commuter’s social contract–no talking on the train, hold ones bag in front of you or place it on the luggage racks–but I’ve been able to take the train to Yokohama all week without getting a single dirty look, so I’m getting there.

However, my favorite way to get around the city is by bicycle. I was able to pick up a used folding bike for around $100 USD, and it has already basically paid for itself by allowing me to bypass the subway entirely on my way to school. It’s about a twenty five minute ride form my apartment to TUJ, which will be great once the Tokyo swamp summer ends and I can stop showing up to my classes looking like Nixon in a televised debate.

Traffic here in Japan is like traffic in England; you drive and bike on the left side of the road, which has led to some close calls when I’m turning and almost collide head on with a garbage truck. However, that’s only an issue in some areas, because in Tokyo, despite it being technically illegal in most places, everybody bikes on the sidewalk. The only other city I have experience biking in is Philadelphia, where, if you were to ride a bike on the sidewalk, there’s a fairly good chance somebody would go out of their way to check you into the street. Not so in Tokyo. Here, it’s not uncommon for the police on busy streets to usher bikers onto the sidewalk, so they that they can weave in and out of pedestrians instead of cars. All bikes are required to have a working headlight for riding past dark (something which can net you a fine of up to 50,000 yen if you get pulled over without one), and must be registered with the police to the person riding it. This last point is very important, as bike theft is one of the most common crimes in Japan; you can risk getting charged with grand theft bicycle for being caught riding a bike registered to someone else.

Orientation Week in Tokyo


I think that my first week in Tokyo has gone by faster than any week of my life that came before it. The days have flown by at the speed of one of the bullet trains that crisscross across this country in a blur of jet lag and neon lights. Every day has been packed with more adventure and new experience than the past twenty years put together, and despite the fact that I feel as though I haven’t slept in a month, I’m having more fun here than I could’ve ever imagined.

I had orientation the morning after I arrived in Japan, which was nice because it forced me out of bed that morning to face my jet lag head on. Pat and I stumbled forth from our apartment, armed with only the faintest idea where the nearest subway station was and a backpack full of vending machine coffees (which, on a somewhat unrelated note, are absolutely delicious). We found our station, Musashi-Koyama on the Meguro line in Tokyo, without a problem; its basically a straight shot and a ten minute walk down the street from my house, but figuring out where we needed to go and how to buy the tickets was another issue. Thankfully, within minutes of noticing us staring blankly at the subway map, a very kind man came over and helped us through.


At orientation, Pat and I met Alexis, with whom we then spent the rest of the week wandering around Tokyo, getting more abysmally lost than I could have ever imagined was possible in a major city. Before I came to Japan, I had no idea how heavily I relied on Philadelphia’s grid system, or streets with names for that matter. I will never not be amazed at how the people in this city can get around when only the largest streets have names.

On Wednesday night, our third in Tokyo, Pat, Alexis, and I went out to Shibuya, which was every bit as wild as I’d heard. Everything was lit up in neon, people and the most delicious smells in the world spilled out onto the streets from every doorway. After walking around the area for a while, we found the famed Shibuya crossing, the largest pedestrian crosswalk in the world. I’d never seen anything like it.

On Saturday, Pat and I took the train north to Yoyogi to buy bicycles. We figured that since we’d both be in Tokyo for the academic year, we might as well save some money on the train, and learn to get around like a local while we’re at it. Unfortunately, we severely overestimated our ability to navigate our way home from Yoyogi in northern Shibuya back down to Shinagawa. We started riding south, somewhat stupidly assuming that we’d soon find something we recognized, and before long were hopelessly lost. We ended up lost for over six hours, biking around labyrinthine side streets and major expressways alike, but it wasn’t all bad. We saw much more of the city than we would have otherwise, including the famous Harajuku neighborhood, which was every bit as visually stimulating as I’d heard, and the Meji Shrine.

My first week in Japan was a nonstop barrage of sensory overload and culture shock, and was one of the best weeks of my life. I’m looking forward to settling into my routine as the “real world” comes around, with classes and my internship at the Kanagawa Sohgoh High School in Yokohama.