Monthly Archives: May 2017

On First Adventures, Studies, and Vulnerability

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It feels fitting to start this week’s reflection the same way I’ve started my abroad experience: vulnerably. Even in Tokyo, Japan, where I’ve found that most people will quickly accommodate non-native speakers, I feel hyper-aware of every misstep I make, and every time I’m unable to reply to a cashier or waiter’s simple question. Even generally, I feel a little bit clumsier, constantly fumbling with my Yen coins or weaving through the rush-hour crowd more awkwardly than usual. It almost feels as if my body is reflecting my verbal incoordination – which doesn’t seem all that unbelievable. For an American who has seldom left the States, and never on her own, this first chapter of my stay feels a lot like rediscovering the senses. Despite all this, I’ve found that little has slowed down the adventure. It’s amazing to consider how, just within the past week, the most incredible experiences have occurred while in this most vulnerable state.

Just within the first few days, a group of friends and I visited Shibuya a couple different times. On late Thursday afternoon, it was a trip to Tokyu Hands (AKA one of Japan’s largest department stores, AKA a world of treasures), Shibuya 109, and general exploration. On Friday night, it was the site of my first experience with Japanese karaoke, as I sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart” from a room overlooking a busy Shibuya street.

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I snapped this image from Shibuya Crossing, as I walked it for the very first time.

Saturday was an unofficial TUJ excursion to Jōgashima Island, where I first experienced Japan outside of its capital city. I watched the sun set over Mt. Fuji, took breathtaking ocean photographs, pet some friendly cats, and had seafood tempura udon at a small, local establishment.

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Jōgashima had a winding path high above the rocks that we followed for hundred of meters.

On Sunday, I attempted my first solo trip to a local supermarket, over a small highway and through some quiet residential neighborhoods by the Musashi-Kosugi dorms. With some anxiety-inducing effort (trying to talk to locals on my own for the first time), I succeeded in buying a stamp to mail my first letter home, and some other goods.

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I encountered much fewer English signs navigating the more residential area around Musashi-Kosugi by myself.

However, among all these new, outside experiences, the first few days at school have felt significantly more familiar. As a Western university, Temple’s courses and classrooms closely resemble the style of those at home. Yet, of course, I never forget where I am. Many of my new peers at Temple Japan are native to the country, or otherwise not from the United States. During an orientation welcome party, I met some new students who had never left Japan before. One explained that one of her main reasons for attending an American-style university was to further improve her English. Sitting in my Development & Globalization class today, pouring over a heavy and lyrical Galeano reading, I thought about how this would all seem impossible to most American students – to jump headfirst into a foreign classroom setting, with all its expectations and difficulties, learning language while also comprehending material.

Inspired and affirmed by this effort from my peers, I hope I can do the same in all my courses, language and otherwise, as I pick up steam in my exciting new environment.

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The Starting Line

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The past week has raced by. From my departure from JFK in New York up until this very moment, I have been non-stop moving, doing, and seeing. From Narita airport I took an express train to Musashi Kosugi station and walked from there to find the Crevia Will Musashi Kosugi dorms. It was a bit of a walk, especially with my heavy luggage in tow, but upon arrival I was greeted with kind faces and luxury that made it all worth it.

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Lobby of Musashi Kosugi Dorms

The dorms here at Musashi Kosugi are brand new and I feel so lucky to be able to live here for the next 10 weeks! The lobby has a nice lounge area for students to gather and chat or do work. Beyond that area is the cafeteria where they serve breakfast and lunch for a reasonable price! And the food is actually really good, nothing like American college dining hall food.

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Bed inside my room, sheets included!

The dorm manager gave me a folder with my room card and some information about the building. He kindly showed me to my floor and helped me find my room. One thing I’ve noticed in Japan is that the people here are very kind and generous. They are willing to go the extra step for you without expecting tips or anything else in return. This is such a (good) shock coming from New York where everyone is expecting some form of tip because they helped you carry your bag to your room.

My dorm room is small but extremely modern. I have my own room so I don’t have to worry about any roommates, and I have my very own bathroom with my own shower! No more communal showers for me here! The room also has a desk, a closet, and a shelf for storage.

I moved in a bit early so I unpacked my things are tried to settle in a bit. Shortly after, more students began to arrive at the dorms as I could hear more luggage rolling down the hallway. That night a few students and myself went to a nearby 7-Eleven to do some initial shopping. It was so easy to make new friends here as everyone is excited to go out and see Japan.

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Fellow students on our way to the first day of orientation.

The next morning we all woke up bright and early, (with no problem because we were all jet lagged) and met some TUJ guides to help show us the way from the dorms to Azabu hall. From the dorms we have to walk to Musashi Kosugi station which is about a 10 minute walk. From there we board a train for Shirokane Takanawa station and walk another 8 or so minutes to Azabu hall. I was so glad for the guides because it was a long commute to try and do for the first time. Long commutes are common here in Japan, so we all boarded a train and stood literally shoulder to shoulder, packed like sardines, joining the locals for the morning commute. I wonder how bizarre a big group of (clearly) foreign students looked on the morning commute.

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Temple Japan Campus

Orientation was a total of two days where various faculty and staff introduced themselves and explained aspects of living in Japan to help us better understand our new environment. There were presentations on all the services offered at the school like different computer labs, tutoring and counseling. They also went over commuting, banks, health insurance, legal actions and night life. At the end of the first day of orientation they gave us all a free lunch of tuna katsu bento!

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Newly made friends enjoying free lunch at orientation.

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Students Wesley, Matthew, Seamus, Shaani, Ruchi, and Ariel outside Azabu hall.

Orientation spanned across Wednesday and Thursday. Friday we had our mornings free and had the Welcome Party in the evening to go to. The welcome party included all kinds of TUJ students. It had students like me, who were there for summer study abroad, and it also had general admission students who were there for their undergraduate degree. This was a good time to meet the other students who lived in the dorms who weren’t just here for the summer, as well as a lot of Japanese students who were attending the school. TUJ is full of a wide variety of people and it was so exciting and honestly heart warming for me to see. The reality of actually being in Japan, attending a university with other Japanese students and taking courses related to my major, really started to hit me at this point. I met so many people from all over the United States and Japan who had such interesting backgrounds. One guy I met was a professional chef before he decided to apply to Temple University Japan and now he’s studying international business and Japanese here.

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TUJ students new and old, summer study abroad and general admits alike, at the Welcome Party put on by OSS!

After the welcome party, a group of friends and I decided to spend our Friday night exploring Tokyo a bit more. We ventured out to Shibuya and were dazzled by all the lights of neon signs and store fronts. Shibuya crossing was huge and full of so many people hustling and bustling in all directions. Hundreds of shops, cafes and restaurants lined the neighborhood’s streets. There was so much to take in!

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Exploring Shibuya after the welcome party.

Even after a late night exploring the city, it didn’t stop my friends and I from waking up at 7:30am the next day to go to Jogashima- an island not too far away from Tokyo. It took two trains and a bus ride but we eventually made it to a beautiful little island. The travel there wasn’t even that bad even though it took a bit because the scenery was amazing. The further from the city we got, the more cozy the houses looked and the more trees and nature took over where sky scrapers would be. A recent TUJ graduate helped us get there and showed us a bit of the island before we broke off into separate groups to enjoy a whole day by the ocean side. This island has an amazing – and I mean breath taking – view of Mt. Fuji. One of the first things we all did was go diving into the ocean with Mt. Fuji as our backdrop. How amazing is that?

We walked the coast line of the island finding caves and beautiful rock formations across the ocean, which was very active and put on a show of its strength and grace for all of us. The island also had a nice hiking trail that overlooked the ocean and Mt. Fuji. After jumping, swimming and hiking, we all went to an Onsen close by and got to enjoy the hot baths and a nice shower to clean off.

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Seamus enjoying the view of the waters around him in Jogashima.

The best part of the day – the whole week rather – was being able to watch the sun set over Mt. Fuji while sitting on some rocks by the edge of the water with newly made friends. This whole week was filled with so many new things. I already have so many precious memories I will never forget and it’s only the first few days! Classes will start up soon, along with an internship I have and I cannot wait to see what else is out there for me in Japan.

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Seamus, Ariel, Colin and I watching the sun set over Mt. Fuji in Jogashima.

Welcome to Japan: Arrival and Orientation

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Welcome to Japan: Arrival and Orientation

When I first used my TUJ key card and entered my dorm room, still just less than 36 hours ago, I felt like crying. Temple’s Musashi-Kosugi dorm in Kawasaki, just outside of Tokyo, instantly felt perfect: just enough for room for one person, clean and new, with windows facing a multitude of train tracks, and most importantly, my own and in Japan.

Backtracking a bit, on May 22nd, I woke up at 4 AM on a quiet Connecticut morning in order to board the first leg of my journey to Japan, in Toronto, Canada. After an easy two hours in a small aircraft, I had officially left the comfort of my home soil, meeting up with a number of new TUJ peers for the main event: the 13-hour flight to Tokyo. Spending this amount of time sitting in the air was a first for me, and though it was replete with restlessness, anticipation, and minor headaches, I enjoyed the novel ability to watch the critically-acclaimed 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo on the plane console and eating Cup Noodles at 36,000 feet.

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Served hot, these simple Cup Noodles were Air Canada’s main in-flight dinner option.

After arriving – and almost being overcome with sentimentality when seeing my new room – I took a trip to a konbini (convenience store) and unpacked my suitcases. Our first stretch of orientation – today, the 24th – started early the next morning. A Temple student representative guided us to the Musashi-Kosugi JR line for the first time. As true since the minute I disembarked at Haneda Airport, the beauty and personality in every street struck me, in every portion of neighborhood that we walked through. I know that I have much of Tokyo, and even more of Japan to discover, but every single area I have seen thus far has brought me a sense of appreciation, especially in strong contrast with the American context I’m accustomed to.

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A snapshot from our first walk to TUJ orientation, very close to Azabu Hall.

On campus, we began our orientation session, which was jam-packed with speakers from various TUJ services, question-taking, and a guided tour. Towards the beginning of the day, TUJ’s dean of students Dr. Bruce Stronach spoke to us on the relationship between the strong human inclination for group identification and the growing effects of globalization. A force as large as globalization inherently affects the way we identify and define ourselves, over national and other types of boundaries. Above all, globalization is a phenomenon that exists, Dr. Stronach explained, and we’re going to continue to experience its effects. And, he continued, much like every peer we meet along the way who is different from us, we are not obligated to like this, but only to understand it. Since two of my four TUJ classes are tied strongly to Dean Stronach’s words (Development & Globalization and East Asia & the United States), a need was spurred to record and remember this observation as I move forward in T0kyo.

 

Finally, a group of new friends and I spent some time walking around Minato Ward after orientation. We came upon Zōjō-ji, a Buddhist temple, built and remodeled in waves from 1622 to 1974. Zōjō-ji was the first temple I’ve ever encountered in Japan, and though rich with historical and religious significance, one couldn’t help but notice the bright orange traffic cones surrounding it. Modern trucks, materials, workers were busy setting up a festival on Zōjō-ji’s grounds. This, combined with a view of Tokyo Tower peaking over the temple’s left shoulder, set up a juxtaposing visual of old and new, traditional and modern. The scene should’ve felt interrupted, but instead, it felt apt for such a complex country. As I continue in Japan, and especially as I begin TUJ classes next Monday, I hope to consider these elements, too, to truly discover Japan both in and out of the classroom.

 

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Zōjō-ji, as mentioned, accompanied by cones, construction workers, and Tokyo Tower standing not far behind.

Pre-Japan Musings: Preparing to Go Abroad

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My decision to apply for Temple University Japan’s summer semester was an easy one. I’ve had a very personal, very lifelong aspiration to study in Tokyo, but my home university was offering in Japan nothing for anyone outside of the Photography Department. When I heard about Temple University Japan through a friend of a friend, a program that offers an entire range of classes, I jumped at the opportunity and investigated. I was more than eager to jump through the many hoops to get the OK from two separate universities, because it’s led me here: graduating college after finishing one last summer semester abroad with Temple University.

This next stage – preparing for the educational, cultural, and personal experience of a lifetime – has been an even greater pleasure. I currently live and study in New York City, but I would not make the mistake of expecting the same atmosphere from Japan’s capital city. My first time away from Western culture will be a singular experience.

One of the first things that I did upon my program acceptance was contact an author who I’d met previously, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in 2016. Kate T. Williamson’s book, A Year in Japan, details her time studying Japanese visual culture in Kyoto on a fellowship with illustrations and handwritten observations. I remembered how I had expressed my own hopes for visiting Japan, and the simple but thoughtful inscription she made to me when I bought her book:

To Ariel- So nice to meet you today at the Sakura Matsuri! I know you will have your own adventure in Japan soon! With very best wishes, Kate”

I received an email back almost instantly, with congratulations and a long list of suggested places to visit and observe in Kyoto, Tokyo, Okinawa, and Osaka. On April 29th, I attended Sakura Matsuri again, meeting back up with Kate. It felt particularly rewarding for her inscription to come true, and to receive another in her latest book.

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Kate T. Williamson’s latest inscription for me – as well as a glimpse at a postcard she created and A Year in Japan.

Between the five classes I took up this past semester, I’ve began to study basic Japanese. This has included marking up a Basic Japanese Conversation Dictionary, and a Japanese Hiragana & Katakana guide for beginners. I’ve found the language app Memrise to be particularly fun and helpful in a pinch, especially on the NYC subway. As for this summer, I’ve enrolled Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students. Studying daily in the States has given me a healthy head start, and complements my research on culture as well. One of my major sources of this has been Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. Common and uncommon cultural topics alike, travel guides, reviews, and even videos comprise the content that Tofugu’s produced since 2008. The more that I prepare, the more excited I become to study media, culture and sociology in Japan. My experiences inside and outside of the classroom, including the many TUJ excursions and volunteer work I intend to take up in Tokyo, will leave me well-informed — and well-equipped for keeping this blog.

A couple months ago, a professor of journalism who has traveled around the world gave me the highest reassurance about a lack of concrete postgrad plans – once I explained my upcoming enrollment in TUJ. “There’s almost no use in planning in what comes after,” she said, “Because this will define it for you.” Once going abroad, many students are transformed. My hopes are that, over the course of the program, and hopefully as I blog and inform, I can discover what comes next.

My Time Abroad in Japan: A Reflection

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Some last shots of Japan

   On April 29, I took a plane from Narita International Airport back to my home in the United States. I remember staring out the plane window, watching the green fields, the tile roof houses, and the rice paddies growing smaller and smaller, with an unmistakeable feeling of sadness.

    My time in Japan was truly amazing. It was my second experience leaving the country, and my first experience living someplace outside of my home state of California. I had never experienced such a huge adventure; such a dramatic change in my way of life. I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted to the country, referring to my tiny Monthly Resi Stay apartment room as home and becoming familiar with all the shortcut streets that lead to the train station. When the time came to leave, I didn’t feel as though I was leaving a foreign country, I felt as though I was leaving a home.

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I’m going to miss this place and all the happiness I found here

    I remember taking very quickly to life in Japan, going through all the pre-described states of culture shock within a week and setting my sights on cultural integration within the first month. I knew I couldn’t completely integrate, but I still wanted to understand the people and places around me as much as possible. The tiny girl I met who called me onee-chan or older sister and liked screaming out of windows, the man who sold sportswear who laughed when I told him I watched Doraemon to learn Japanese. I wanted to learn more about them; I wanted to learn more about Japan.

    Strangely enough, the best memories I have in Japan the mundane ones. Memories of going to the park with my friends, grabbing a tasty beef bowl meal at my local automat, working on art projects at school, having an old lady hold my arm for support on a crowded train, or stumbling upon the odd temple while shopping for necessities. I have memories of sitting in on a happy couple’s wedding plans, cooking in my room with my friends, asking my art teachers to practice Japanese with me, and running through the rain to the karaoke bar on a Friday night. I loved those small, quiet moments of enjoyment in Japan, when I felt as though I was settling into my life abroad. I definitely had fun on touristy outings–going to museums or famous temples, but I was most content when I was able to relax and absorb my environment.

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I had some amazing food

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And saw some beautiful places

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It was really amazing!

     I’m going to miss many things about Japan now that I’m in America. I am surprised at how quickly all the things about Japan that amazed me–the trains that ran on time, the heated toilet seats, the ubiquitous vending machines–all became mundane to me after a month, and then became an easy convenience that I couldn’t believe I had lived without. Back home, I don’t understand why we can’t have a better reaching rail system and why every convenience store does not have a rack or ready-made rice balls. I even miss weird things, like how everyone in Tokyo seemed to like dressing up their dogs in little jackets or padded vests.

     Though I miss the many conveniences of Tokyo life, I think I will miss the friends I made most of all. People I met around the city or through mutual friends, my classmates and my teachers, I have a hard time thinking that I will never see them again. Everyone I met taught me so much and I wish I had more time to get to know all of them better. I hope I’ll be able to return again soon.

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Thank you for all the laughs and memories

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I hope I’ll see you again soon!

Cherry Blossom Season in Retrospect

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Cherry blossom season in Japan is incredibly beautiful

    At the end of March and beginning of April, the cherry blossoms began to bloom, ushering in warmer weather and a festive attitude amongst the Japanese people. I was too preoccupied with school work to make any posts to the Temple Abroad blog–I needed to start several final projects simultaneously. However, I still want to share my experience of cherry blossom season in Japan.

    During cherry blossom season, delicate pink and white flowers bloom from the numerous cherry trees in Japan. The season ends when the flowers fall from the trees, to be replaced with budding green leaves. Tourists and native Japanese alike flock to parks and gardens to take pictures of the short-lived blooms, called sakura. Many people also set up picnics or parties to watch the cherry blossoms, called hanami.

    I was lucky enough to go on several hanami outings. Some were sponsored by Temple University, while others were personal trips I took with friends. However, cherry blossom trees are so common in Japan, every trip outside felt like a mini hanami session. Hanami trees lined major streets and were planted in every park. There was one directly outside the TUJ dorms and three directly behind main campus in Azabu.

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The cherry blossom trees in Hama Rikyu Gardens

    The first flower viewing I went to was a field trip for one of my art classes. We went to Hama Rikyu Gardens, a series of gardens belonging to the Japanese government which initially served as the grounds for a wealthy feudal lord. The garden was crowded with other hopeful flower viewers. One fully blooming cherry tree was quickly surrounded by twenty or so people, all trying to take a picture of its sakura. My friend and I joined in the chaos and took some nice photos, although it was difficult to work around the many other people crowding around.

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Picture of myself with cherry blossoms and several other people in the background

    Though I thoroughly enjoyed Hama Rikyu Gardens, my personal favorite hanami experience happened at night, near the end of the season. I was meeting up with a friend who went to a nearby school. We ate dinner together at a bar and then casually strolled through Ueno Park after evening fell. The cherry blossoms were difficult to see and impossible to take pictures of in the dark, but I could still see their flowering branches stretching overhead, covering our path in a flowery canopy. Strings of lanterns illuminated small patches of white blossoms and the numerous picnics taking place underneath. Business men and groups of friends laughed and cracked open bottles of alcohol. Polite signs asked picnic-goers to throw away their trash, and the atmosphere was fun and lighthearted. My friend and I walked past the rows of picnics and food stands, passing by a large lake. Through the cherry blossom branches we could make out the bright city lights from across the water. I thought the view might have looked better during the daytime but in the nighttime, a serene atmosphere settled over our surroundings.

    The sakura season ended after two weeks. I remember going to school during finals week and feeling a twinge of disappointment upon seeing the pink petals replaced by tiny green leaves. The cherry blossoms lasted such a short time, but I still have some excellent memories and photos from the experience.

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