Culture, Language, and This Week in Tokyo Adventures

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Somehow, it has officially been over three weeks since my peers and I arrived in Japan – in case you needed any further proof that time is a fake concept. Joking aside, it is hard to believe that I’m soon to be a third of the way through my TUJ experience. From konbini ticket machine misadventures to early evening trips to beautiful districts like Ginza, I feel as fascinated with Tokyo as when I arrived, and only a bit less vulnerable. Yet, even with what feels like base knowledge of language and Japanese life, I am adapting fairly quickly – to my commute to and from school, sorting through Yen coins (for which, up to the equivalent of ¥500 exists!), and even interactions with local people.

In addition, my TUJ classes have guaranteed I’m never deprived of knowledge about my host country. In East Asia & the United States, I’ve been learning about Japan’s past and current international relationships. Surprisingly, I’ve also found my Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students to be at least just as much about Japanese culture as it as about language. Though this was not what I was expecting from a “practical” course, our studies on cultural elements (such as amae, Shintoism and Buddhism, wabi-sabi, and the Japanese school system) have been just as rewarding. I also think, revisiting what “practical” can mean, learning the culture of a host country can be just as important as learning language.

I’ve been trying to apply my cumulative knowledge about both Japanese language and culture as I continue to explore the city, while alone and with friends. This week’s adventures haven’t included any formal trips, but have been enriching nonetheless. Last Sunday, I visited Ikebukuro for the first time with a friend. After successfully  communicating with waiters and ordering food at a café, I visited Sunshine City, an indoor complex that includes Sky Circus and a Pokémon Center that we stopped in. The former is an interactive observatory on the building’s 60th floor, complete with its own café and gift shop. Excluding additional VR experiences, the trip was relatively affordable, at the price of ¥900 for students. I hope to return soon with friends for a night visit – as the mysterious message below suggests.

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The transcription reads: “Let’s meet here at night, because something happens in this window.”

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Another image from Sky Circus in Sunshine City tower.  Many interactive features had common themes such as light, color, seasons, and weather.

Most recently, I visited Gotokuji Temple with a friend for a work assignment of hers (fellow Temple Japan blogger Richel!). Gotokuji Temple, located in Setagaya Ward, is also referred to as the “Cat Temple.” Hundreds of Japan’s famous cat figurines (maneki neko) were featured there. As our contact at the temple explained, visitors buy figurines to bring home and make a wish or prayer. If that desire comes true, you are meant to return to the temple and add your figurine to the altar.

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Even the wet and dreary weather on the way to Gotokuji couldn’t stop me from snapping a picture of the peaceful streets of Setagaya Ward.

Grabbing lunch afterwards, we came across a small restaurant named “PIZZA & WINE.” The only patrons present, we thoroughly enjoyed a ¥800, full-sized pizza. We also quickly noticed how the restaurant was exclusively playing obscure Michael Jackson tunes, and that Dreamwork’s Puss in Boots was playing on a flat-screen television. It was a peculiarity in a traditional, small, and residential neighborhood that I found both humorous and representative of the unique and multifaceted nature of Tokyo. Overall, I was glad to have stopped to breathe, eat and observe in yet another fascinating area of the city.

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We ordered a prosciutto & soft-boiled egg pizza before leaving the area around Gotokuji Temple –  and were not disappointed.

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About Ariel Kovlakas for Temple Japan

Hi there! My name is Ariel Kovlakas, and I’m a senior majoring in Communications (Media, Culture & Society) and minoring in Sociology. As a student at Fordham University's Manhattan campus, I’ve been grateful to live in a hub of opportunities and experiences that have never failed to expand my worldview. In a very real way, my time with TUJ will be a defining and final chapter in my undergrad career, as I’m heading out into the world directly after my abroad experience. And what a way to go – studying in Tokyo, Japan with Temple University. As (extremely) excited as I am, I’m even more grateful to participate and record my experience. I’ve always had a passion for Japan (its food, art, architecture, festivals, you name it). My hopes are that the more I explore Japan, the more I’ll be able to uncover about myself and what comes next.

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