Monthly Archives: December 2016

Final Post: A Reflection on Fall 2016


The semester is over and it has been a great experience. I stayed in Japan for one more week after the end of finals to explore more of this great country. All the while, I reflected on this trip and how it has impacted my life.


Itsukushima Shrine at high tide on Miyajima Island


Sadako’s memorial standing tall


Trying Kobe Steak and tempura from street vendors along Dotonbori


Happy deers in Nara


A little bit of gold in the darkness


Twisting paths along Fushimi Inari Shrine’s senbon torii


The godairiki stones from Sumiyoshi Taisha

While all of these experiences individually impacted me, I have to say that I was mostly changed by the people I met along the way on this journey. From the other study abroad students to the students from Kaetsu University to the residents I met on the streets of Itabashi City – everybody has changed me a little bit or helped me to grow.


Thank you Kaetsu Univ. students – you taught me more Japanese than any class ever could


Thanks, Azumi, for being a great friend from day 1

This semester was difficult, as being far away from home is always difficult, but it’s kind of like the lights I saw in Yoyogi Park. The full beauty of the lights cannot be appreciated without the darkness to accent it. I hope to return to appreciate its beauty again soon.



Final’s Week; Final Critique


I’ve posted a lot about my adventures, both academic and non-academic, on this blog. However, the main reason I am in Japan (as I have been reminded again and again) is to study. I’ve had a few weeks where my blog posts fell to the bottom of my priorities list in favor of school work and projects. One of the classes I took this semester was Introduction to Printmaking. Instead of a final exam, we have a final critique, in which we present and showcase the project we’ve been working on during the final weeks of classes.


There was some last-minute printing going on right before critique


Patrick adding the last touches to his piece before he puts it up for exhibition



His final product – portraits of his friends


Phyo is putting her pieces up for display


Karis’s purple damask wallpaper. Each one was printed individually.


Kenta and Atsushi posing with their final pieces


Tom putting his piece up for exhibition


Critiques have begun! Tom explains the concept behind his piece


Alex points out some aspects of his prints during his critique


Kaito utilized the sunlight streaming through the blinds to help illuminate his piece

Now that finals week is over, many students are relieved with the end of the semester. The overwhelming stress has dissipated in favor of excitement for the holiday season.



How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t celebrate the “traditional American Thanksgiving”? Simply – by spending the day with friends exploring the culture of the country you’re in.


The big Buddha statue with fall leaves at Tennoji Temple


The main approach to Nezu Jinja


The goshuin for Nezu Jinja


An old merchant’s store turned into a pseudo-museum


The daruma doll arrangement at Yushima Tenmangu’s fall festival


The entirety of the temple’s grounds were covered in flowers


Yushima Tenmangu is the temple of the scholars, so many students come here to pray for successful exams (which we did as well)

We couldn’t afford a real Thanksgiving turkey, so we celebrated by going to eat yakiniku, which is a restaurant style that brings you raw meat that you cook on your own at a little grill at your table. It was very good!


All of the drinks were mango juice

And of course, what was a night in Tokyo without experiencing some of the fun activities with friends? This is purikura, a large Photo Booth that is notorious for creating the illusion of larger eyes and clearer skin. It was a lot of fun!


A Thanksgiving miracle! It showed in Tokyo in November for the first time in 54 years. Well… it was more like sleet than snow, but for this Hawaii girl, anything that isn’t rain is spectacular. f1614010_tokyo_first-snow_tamlynkurata

Spirited Away (And then forced to come back)


It’s that time of the year again – final project week(s). The last few weeks before final exams where every professor in every class asks for a 3,000 word essay and a 20 minute presentation. In the midst of all the paperwork and presentation slides, I have to take a break and step back from it all. And while I’m laying on the floor of my dormitory, covered in note books and loose-leaf handouts, I think back to the last bit of freedom I had: the four-day cultural holiday weekend. During that weekend, it is not uncommon for many of the Japanese students to go home to be with family, or for the study abroad students to travel to farther cities (or even to Korea!) to get away from the constant hustle and bustle of the city. As for me, I went down south to Suo-Oshima, an island in Yamaguchi-ken, to be with a friend from home who is in Japan with the JET program teaching English to middle and elementary school children.


There are more cats than people on Nakasejima

The school I went to is on a very tiny island called Nakasejima. There are less than 100 people living on the island, and there are only 11 children (3rd – 8th grade) at the school. One of the classes only has one child in it.

Most of the island’s inhabitants have lives that revolve around the ocean, and fishing still a huge part of their lifestyle.



Fishing vessel on glassy water (taken from the side of a speeding ferry boat)


The whole area is spotted with tiny (seemingly uninhabited) islands

Then, the weekend came! Some of the JET teachers and I made the almost two hour trip from Suo-Oshima to Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime prefecture. When in Matsuyama, you must visit Matsuyama Castle. It is built on top of a mountain that rises 433 feet (or 132 m) above Matsuyama City and it’s a HIKE to get up there. But once you’re there, the view is absolutely spectacular and the castle is gorgeous amongst the Autumn leaves.


Also on the grounds is an expansive garden. The garden has this bamboo monument to commemorate a coin found that signifies the tragic love story of a Russian prisoner and a young Japanese woman. The garden is incredibly popular for wedding or engagement photos, and many young couples come here looking for blessings on their relationship. The garden also doubles as a pretty expansive mikan (or tangerine) garden. Just don’t take any of the fruit or one of the garden workers will chase you down… not that I know from experience or anything.



Matsuyama City as seen from one of the watch towers in Matsuyama Castle

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been spirited away from my city lifestyle and taken back to feudal Japan.

At the bottom of the mountain, there was a huge festival going on. Upon further inspection, we came to find out that it was the Japan prefecture character festival! Each prefecture in Japan has its own mascot or character, as do most of the government offices and public services (firefighters, police, post office, etc.). Many companies also have their own figure. You could take pictures with the mascots, partake in very cheap and delicious fair food, play games, and get free stickers and tissue packets.


Oomapyon from Omachi City (Nagano Pref.)

Our last stop in Matsuyama was to the famous Dogo Onsen. Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen still standing in Japan, and it is part of the inspiration for the onsen in Spirited Away.

Unlike other onsens, which are very expensive, Dogo Onsen is relatively cheap with the most expensive option being a little over 1500 yen. However, they do not provide towels or soap, shampoo, or conditioner. You can find these things in the shopping street right in front of the onsen for very cheap, though.

The experience was amazing. It really felt like I was in one of my favorite movies. Everybody was wearing yukata walking around this part of the city. Plus, there was a bon festival at night, so there were tons of performances and traditional music.


But of course, all good things must come to an end, and the airplane that spirited me away from Tokyo had to bring me back. As I sit writing this post, I keep on looking at the paper to my left due in two hours that I should have started last night but put off until now and the presentation on my laptop that I have to give at 15:30. Oh well… ’tis the season, right?